Miscarriages of Justice

The McLeod-Lindsay Case

The McLeod-Lindsay case relates to an attempted murder in Sydney in 1964. Alexander McLeod-Lindsay was convicted of the brutal bashing and attempted murder of his wife and son, but was pardoned years later when it was subsequently accepted that ‘expert’ witnesses at his trial had failed to correctly interpret blood patterns found on his clothes, resulting in a miscarriage of justice. This blood spatter evidence was the only incriminating evidence against him. Tunnel vision caused the ‘experts’ to ascribe to ‘impact spatter’ what really was ‘expiration spatter.’ But the jury accepted the testimony of the ‘experts’ and found McLeod-Lindsay guilty of attempted murder. He was sentenced to 18 years in jail and served 9 years before he was let out on parole. It took an internationally recognized expert in blood dynamics to demonstrate, years later, that the local ‘experts’ at the trial had made a crucial error in their incorrect interpretation of the blood patterns on McLeod-Lindsay’s clothes.

Alexander McLeod-Lindsay was born in Scotland in 1934, came to Australia as a 10 pound migrant in 1950, married Pamela Parsons in 1956 and had three children, Bruce, Alyson and Andrew. In 1964 they bought a home at 24 Amaroo Street, Sylvania, in Sydney’s south. McLeod-Lindsay worked at the Miranda autoport by day and as a waiter by night at the Sylvania Hotel.

On 14 September 1964 he worked until just after midnight, arriving home several minutes later. He found his four year old son, Bruce, lying in the hallway, severely injured with a fractured skull. The light switch did not work. Someone had tampered with the fuse box. McLeod-Lindsay grabbed a torch and found his wife covered in blood cowering in a corner of the bedroom. Later he said, “I attempted to pick her up…she made a gurgling sound and I felt blood strike my face.” (see Justice and Nightmares, 1992, Malcolm Brown and Paul Wilson, NSW University Press, p. 4).

Pamela had been bashed repeatedly with a jackpick, a metal rod about 61 centimeters long and weighing 3.3 kilograms. The rod belonged to McLeod-Lindsay but it had been dropped by the attacker in the foyer of the house. McLeod-Lindsay rushed to his neighbour for help. An ambulance was called. McLeod-Lindsay used his wind jacket to cover his wife’s nakedness. When Bruce and Pamela were put in the ambulance someone returned his wind jacket to him and, although it was heavily blood stained, he wore it to the hospital. Pamela and Bruce survived but Pamela was brain-damaged as a result of the attack and lost the sight of her right eye.

McLeod-Lindsay was interviewed by the investigating police several times over the next 24 hours. Inconsistences in his story were later used against him. There was no sign of forced entry to the house and police came to believe that McLeod-Lindsay was the attacker. They believed that a small window of opportunity existed for him to slip away from work between 9.30 pm and 10 pm and commit the crime. The police theorized that he left his hotel job around 9.30 pm, drove home, bashed his wife and son, returned to work in his Standard 10 car at about 10 pm, then returned to the house just after midnight where he discovered that his wife and son were still alive. He then acted as ‘the distressed husband.’ (Justice and Nightmares, 1992, op.cit., p.48.)

He was charged with attempted murder and sent to trial on 1 March 1965 before Justice Athol Moffitt. As mentioned, the only evidence to incriminate him was a group of blood spatters on his clothing. The experts at the trial said that it was impact spatter, that is, spatter from the impact of the metal bar on his wife’s body as the blows rained down. The experts said that, in their view, the blows had been delivered vertically on to Pamela’s head by a right handed man with his right leg forward, a position that fitted the pattern of blood staining on McLeod-Lindsay’s clothing. The court paid little or no attention to the alternative hypothesis that McLeod-Lindsay was innocent and received the stains as he tried to assist his badly battered wife when she coughed blood over him. Detective Sergeant Norman Merchant from the Scientific Section of the CIB was adamant that the stains could only be impact spatter. The jury, in a trial presided over by Justice Moffitt, accepted the case argued by the prosecution and found McLeod-Lindsay guilty of attempted murder. Justice Moffitt said that he agreed with the jury’s verdict and that the crime was “premeditated, cruel and cold blooded in the extreme.” McLeod-Lindsay was sentenced to 18 years’ jail. (see Justice and Nightmares,1992, op.cit., p.47. See also www.smh.com.au 21 September 2009).

His appeal, which was heard in 1965 before the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, was rejected. Nevertheless, some groups and organizations continued to express unease and disquiet about McLeod-Lindsay’s guilt. One group was the McLeod-Lindsay Citizens Committee which was led by Lady Herron, the wife of the Chief Justice. This support for McLeod-Lindsay led to an inquiry under section 475 of the Crimes Act conducted by Justice Lee in 1969. Detective Sergeant Merchant was asked if the blood could have got on McLeod-Lindsay’s wind jacket when McLeod-Lindsay picked up his badly injured wife. Merchant said that in that case the blood stains would have gone in the opposite direction. In spite of some qualifications, Justice Lee believed that the blood evidence was compelling, and upheld the conviction.

McLeod-Lindsay was released on parole in August 1973. He wrote a book about the case entitled An Ordinary Man, published by Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, 1984.

Dr David Allen, who became interested in the case, discovered that there were at least two blood splash patterns on the wall of the bedroom, with the second pattern deposited after the first by at least 20 minutes. Dr Allen felt that it could have been as much as up to one hour later. This contradicted ‘expert’ evidence at the trial that the blood splash patterns had been deposited at the time of the crime. If accepted, this meant that it was possible that McLeod-Lindsay had been telling the truth and that the second pattern had been deposited as his wife coughed blood over him as he bent down to try to help her. Dr Allen’s conclusions were supported by another doctor, Dr Andrew Scott. (see The Conviction of the Innocent, 2007, Chester Porter QC, Random House, Australia, p. 88ff; See also Justice and Nightmares, 1992, op cit., p. 51).

A forensic biologist from California, Anita Kay Yount Wonder, who was an internationally recognized expert in blood dynamics, examined photographs of the wind jacket that McLeod-Lindsay had been wearing as he tried to assist his brutally battered wife, and recognized that the blood on his jacket was clotted blood. “I knew right away it was clotted blood” she said.(see Justice and Nightmares, 1992, op.cit., p.52.) This meant that the blood clots would have had to be forming for at least 20 minutes before they were expelled onto the jacket. This new information became the basis for a new inquiry conducted by Justice Loveday. In his report released on 20 August 1991, Justice Loveday said,

“The close and detailed examination of the stains on the clothing made by the experts who gave evidence before me has, however, shown up difficulties in attributing stains on McLeod-Lindsay’s clothing to the assault… Mr McLeod-Lindsay’s clothing could have been innocently stained.” (Justice and Nightmares, op.cit., p. 57).

Justice Loveday accepted the evidence of Dr Richard Collins who said that McLeod-Lindsay’s wife would have had to cough to clear the blood from the airways in her disfigured mouth. He concluded that a cough from a blood filled mouth would have produced ‘expiration’ spatter and ‘expiration’ spatter would have produced blood patterns substantially the same as ‘impact’ spatter. (The Conviction of the Innocent, 2007,op.cit., pp. 88,89; also see Justice and Nightmares,op.cit., p.55). Justice Loveday found that this new evidence would have destroyed the Crown case at the trial if it had been presented. Justice Loveday recommended that McLeod-Lindsay be pardoned. Pamela had divorced him in 1973. He remarried in 1974. McLeod-Lindsay received $700,000 in compensation. He died in 2009 but his case lives on as one “where ‘expert’ evidence considered to be conclusive at the trial was later shown to be defective.” (The Conviction of the Innocent, 2007, op.cit., p.96).

From a procedural point of view this case provides one more persuasive example of the need to train detectives and prosecutors in the general philosophy of science regarding when a theory may be deemed to have been proved true, and when plausible alternative hypotheses have been proved untrue.

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