Miscarriages of Justice

The Ziggy Pohl case

Johann Ernst Siegfried (Ziggy) Pohl was wrongly convicted of the 1973 murder of his wife, Kum Yee (Joyce) Pohl, and served ten years in prison before his release on licence in 1983. He had no criminal record and no motive to kill his wife. There was no evidence against him except the fact that he was present in their Queanbeyan flat at about the time of her murder on 9 March that year. He had come home from work briefly for about ten minutes between 9.30 am and 9.40 am on that fateful day, although on that occasion he did not see any sign of his wife. Pohl left the house but returned to the flat two hours later, just before midday. It was then that he found his wife’s body as well as some evidence of a burglary. A jar of fifty cent coins and a watch were missing.

Chester Porter QC says “The case against Pohl is about the weakest successful Crown case for murder that I came across in fifty two years at the bar.” (The Conviction of the Innocent, 2007, Chester Porter QC, Random House, Sydney, p.138). The police investigators seemed to have placed undue weight on the fact that he was the husband and that his wife had previously expressed some dissatisfaction about the state of her marriage. In a letter dated 27 February that she had written, less than two weeks before she was killed, she had said that she was unhappy and was considering a return to her home in Hong Kong.

Despite the absence of any firm evidence, their suspicion that he was guilty was enough for the NSW police to charge Ziggy Pohl with his wife’s murder. The police reasoned that someone had murdered Mrs Pohl and the husband was the obvious starting point in the investigation. Pohl was very upset over his wife’s death, but he always maintained his innocence of the crime. At his trial, his defence team was concerned that the jury might misinterpret Ziggy Pohl’s nervous demeanor. They considered that it would be better for him if he made an unsworn statement from the dock rather than take the stand and give sworn evidence. A nervous witness could always crumble in the witness box under aggressive questioning from the prosecution. In NSW in the 1970s it was a tactic sometimes used by defence counsels to avoid cross examination. In this case, it did avoid Pohl being cross examined, but it turned out to be bad advice, because as Chester Porter QC wrote:

“The fact that Pohl failed to refute the inferences drawn by the Crown by sworn evidence went strongly against him.” (ibid., p.140).

Although the case against him was purely circumstantial, Pohl was convicted and sent to jail for life. He served ten years of his sentence before he was released on licence on 25 February 1983. He lived quietly and was discharged from licence on 24 February 1988, five years later.

On 8 September 1990, something happened which one might read about in crime fiction, but not in real life. A man named Roger Graham Bawden walked into the Queanbeyan Police Station, the very place where Pohl had been charged seventeen years earlier and confessed to murdering Mrs Pohl at her home in March 1973. Bawden was a casual burglar who had entered the house and was in the process of stealing when he had been interrupted by Mrs Pohl. As a consequence, after killing her, he was so overcome with emotion that he hardly took anything beyond the missing coins and a watch.

“A subsequent inquiry showed that Roger Bawden did in fact commit that crime, and his confession was a genuine act of conscience. Unfortunately it occurred only long after Pohl had served his entire sentence.” (ibid., p.4).

Bawden was charged and jailed for the murder of Mrs Pohl. Bawden served eight years in prison. Almost a year after he had confessed to the murder, a Supreme Court judge was directed to inquire into the conviction of Ziggy Pohl under section 475 of the Crimes Act. As a result of this inquiry the NSW Governor, in 1992, granted Ziggy Pohl an unconditional pardon. Pohl subsequently received an ex gratia payment of $200,000 for ten years of wrongful incarceration.

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