KASAMA Vol. 16 No. 1 / January-February-March 2002 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
Appeal Court grants Thomas Keir retrial
On 29 February 2000, Thomas Andrew Keir received a sentence of 24 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 18 years, for the murder of his first wife Jean Strachan Keir in 1988. But now, almost two years later, the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial which is scheduled for July 2002.
Justices Roger Giles, Greg James and Peter McClellan ruled that Supreme Court Justice Michael Adams mis-directed the jury over the DNA evidence in Keir's trial.
In his judgement on sentence, Justice Adams said that Keir's "arrogant, controlling behaviour in respect of his wife, demonstrated from time to time by his manhandling of her, his concealment of her contraceptive pills and his threats of murder, showed that he considered her as his property to be dealt with as he thought it right".
At Keir's trial, evidence was given by a forensic biologist that DNA analysis of bone fragments found outside Keir's residence showed that, "it is approximately 660,000 times more likely to obtain this particular DNA profile found in the bones if it comes from a child of [the biological parents of Jean Strachan Keir] than from a child of a random mating in the Australian population."
However, the trial judge instructed the jury that there was, "a 660,000 chance to one that these bones were not those of Jean Keir."
"Those are two very different things in statistical terms," senior counsel for Keir, Paul Byrne, told the appeal hearing. And, because the judge had invited the jury to view the DNA evidence as discrediting a key defence witness who claimed to have seen Jean eight months after her alleged murder, Keir was effectively deprived "of a chance that the jury might have looked at the sighting evidence as grounds to acquit," he said.
Michael Sexton, the NSW Solicitor-General, conceded the DNA evidence had been wrongly presented, but argued the Crown case was overwhelming when all evidence was taken into account.
Jean's mother, Christine Strachan, was in court. After the appeal hearing she told the press, "Now, 14 years after she disappeared, we have to go through the whole thing again. I cried buckets during that trial ... all that heartache. I'm so disappointed, I cannot believe it."
Another mother is also grieving over the loss of her daughter. Ester is the mother of Rosalina Canonizado who was Keir's second wife. In April 1991 Rosalina was found strangled in her bedroom, her body set alight. Keir was tried for her murder, but acquitted. Both Filipinas, Jean and Rosalina quite coincidentally were second cousins.
- with a report from the Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Feb 2002.
STOP PRESS: The retrial of Thomas Andrew Keir commenced in the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 5 August, 2002. A jury of 8 men and four women found Keir guilty of the murder of his first wife, Jean Angela Strachan Keir. Justice Kirby on 21 March, 2003, sentenced Keir to 22 years imprisonment with a non-parole period of 16 years. Keir will therefore be eligible for release on parole on 20 February, 2014, two years earlier than the original sentence.
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