New claims on the man acquitted for killing mother, father, brother


New details on the acquittal of Jeffrey Gilham, who was accused of killing his parents and his brother, emerged in a new book from the man who at the time was director of the NSW prosecutors, Nicholas Cowdery.

Gilham, who is now 49, has been tried twice for the murders of his mother Helen, 55, father Stephen, 58, after admitting he killed his older brother Christopher.

Put on trial twice for the murder of his parents, he was once convicted and then acquitted on appeal.

Gilham has always maintained his innocence in relation to the death of his parents.

Helen, Stephen and Chris Gilham were killed in frenetic stab attacks in the family home – which was then burned – on the Woronora River, in southern Sydney, on the night of August 27, 1993.

Accused for the murder of his brother, Jeffrey later pleaded manslaughter, saying that he was the twenty-five-year-old Chris who had killed their parents and killed his brother for doing it.

After receiving a suspended sentence and a bond of good behavior, Gilham was subsequently charged with the murders of his parents, partly because of his uncle, Tony Gilham.

Tony Gilham conducted a media campaign to charge his nephew after Jeffrey sought access to family property – worth about $ 900,000.

In 2000, a medical examiner recommended Gilham to be charged with the murder of his parents.

His first trial in 2008 led to a suspended jury, the second the same year condemned him.

Given two consecutive life sentences, Gilham was in prison for three years before his sentence was canceled and he was acquitted on appeal.

Gilham, a sailor and an engineer, now works for the Streets and Maritime Services and lives with his wife and children in a partially purchased house with his family legacy in the lush suburb of the north coast of St Ives.

In his new book Frank & Fearless, Cowdery reveals new details and less known facts of the case.

Physical tests – including scrapings and nail polish – which could have been reviewed using techniques such as DNA and chemical analysis, have "disappeared".

Cowdery writes that the evidence on carbon monoxide levels in dead bodies, in addition to the stab wound analysis, detonated "two huge holes" in the Crown case, which led to the successful appeal.

However, Cowdery states that the chief judge of the New South Wales Criminal Appeal Court Peter McClellan at the time "wanted to order a new trial".

However, his two fellow judges did not agree with him, and they governed jointly to absolve on the basis of a judicial error.

"Their honors did not say that Jeffrey was innocent or that it was their job to decide if he was innocent," writes Cowdery.

"But the new test of the experts was very powerful, it supported the version of events of Jeffrey and raised a reasonable doubt about his guilt.

"Should they order a third trial or make Jeffrey free once and for all?" Chief Justice McClellan said that, with some changes to the event calendar, a solid Crown case was still possible.

"The other two judges, however, considered the Crown case as already hopelessly weakened and not strong enough to warrant a third trial."

Jeffrey Gilham was released from prison in December 2011 to live with his wife Robecca and their three daughters, and six months later he was formally acquitted.

As he left the camp, Tony Gilham said to his nephew: "Jeffrey is not over yet – I will fix you."

Exactly three weeks later, "crazy uncle Tony", while he was jokingly called, died of a heart attack at home.

Some members of the Gilham family supported Tony, others Jeffrey.

The ferocious killings more than a decade and a half ago had torn the Gilham family to pieces, through two coronial investigations, a 60 minutes investigation, three trials, appeal and acquittal.

Cowdery details some of the strange facts of the case and the conflicting opinions of forensic experts on vital evidence as if the cutting wounds had a "model".

Stephen Gilham was stabbed 28 times and Helen and Christopher 17 times each.

At the second investigation, in 1999, four experts expressed conflicting views on wounds.

The opinion of Dr. Godfrey Oettle, forensic pathologist, was: "The position of cutting wounds is more consistent with the existence of a killer rather than two.

"I think it's possible there are two, but I think the reasonable probability is that there was one."

Dr. Christopher Lawrence, the government's medical officer, prepared an anatomical drawing of a body with transparent overlaps of each victim's wounds.

He said: "I honestly can't remember a group of three sets of wounds that looked so similar. And I've already faced other triple murders ".

However, he concluded that this did not establish that a person was responsible.

Dr. Allan Cala, a forensic pathologist, said: "The pattern of injury and the causes of death in all three cases are extremely similar … that these three people should die in extraordinarily similar ways suggests … the possibility that only one person involved in three deaths ”.

The Victorian forensic expert, Professor Stephen Cordner was not in agreement, saying that "the only similarity here is the number and the fact that they could all have been inflicted with the same knife.

"I don't think it's safe to conclude that the distribution and the number of wounds … indicate that the three deaths were made by one hand."

Professor Cordner recommended presenting Christopher Gilham's robe and Jeffrey Gilham's boxer shorts for chemical analysis and reviewing the formal knife test.

But Cowdery states that these three objects, in addition to at least another 12, including the scratches of Christopher's nail, a piece of garden hose and the clothing of Jeffrey and his parents have disappeared, probably after the appeal for culpable homicide of Jeffrey of 1995.

In both of Jeffrey Gilham's trials, Professor Cordner's evidence on cutting wounds was not included.

Combined with the testimony of the American toxicologist David Penney, on the levels of CO in the three bodies, this upset the case of the Crown.

Crown prosecutors had claimed that Christopher Gilham must have died when the fire was lit due to the negligible level of CO – fire-breathable – contained in his bloodstream.

Dr. Lawrence had stated that the CO level of 6% in Christopher's blood was within the normal and much lower range than if he were alive during a fire.

He also showed that the CO levels of Stephen and Helen Gilham – 2% and 3% respectively – meant that they too had died before the start of the fire.

This set the length of time the Crown claimed for their discussion that neighbors heard a woman's stressed voice and a guttural groan from a man at 3.57am, Jeffery Gilham had time to light the fire, wash the knife and wash the blood away.

He knocked on his neighbor's door at 4.30am.

But Dr. Penney concluded that the levels found in the blood of all three deceased shown when the fire was lit were still alive.

"All three individuals seem to have absorbed some CO from the fire … with Christopher Gilham who has absorbed more," said Dr. Penney.

Cowdery writes that although the short-sighted Christopher Gilham was found without wearing glasses and dressed only in a robe, without pants, the new CO tests put him near the fire.

Jeffrey's story was that he had gone upstairs and had seen his older brother standing on his mother's body with a lighted match, saying, "I killed mom and dad."

Frank & Fearless by Nick Cowdery AO QC, published by New South Books, $ 34.99

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