Australian free after 20 years as top cop murder conviction quashed

Australian free after 20 years as top cop murder conviction quashed

SYDNEY - An Australian man jailed for life over the murder of one of the nation's top policemen had his conviction overturned Friday after serving almost 20 years in prison.

David Eastman, 68, was sentenced in 1995 after being found guilty of shooting dead Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Colin Winchester in 1989 - the country's highest-ranking officer to be murdered.

Eastman, a former Treasury official, was granted bail Friday after agreeing to strict conditions.

But he was ordered to face a new trial by the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court, which quashed the conviction, as "there is still a strong, but not overwhelming, circumstantial case" against him.

Eastman has always proclaimed his innocence and repeatedly challenged the conviction. In May, an inquiry found he "had not had a fair trial" and recommended his sentence be put aside.

The full bench of the court agreed that there were "extensive flaws" with the testimony of the prosecution's principal forensic expert witness.

There were also several other factors the inquiry judge said had made the conviction "unsafe".

"It cannot be in the interests of justice to allow his conviction to stand when this central feature of the circumstantial case against him has been demonstrated to be baseless," the ACT court said in a statement.

But it said a retrial was necessary as the "community has a vital interest in ensuring that a person against whom a strong circumstantial case of murder of a very senior police officer exists does not escape having a jury decide whether or not he is guilty of that crime".

Winchester was shot twice in the head at close range as he emerged from his car near his home in Canberra on January 10, 1989.

There was speculation that it was an organised crime hit, but Eastman was arrested.

Police alleged he had threatened Winchester because the officer did not help withdraw an assault charge he was facing, with the public servant fearing it would hurt his career.

 

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