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Bradley Robert Edwards found guilty of two of the three Claremont killings

DNA testing in recent decades has miraculously proven the guilty of the guilty and acquitted the innocent, often many years after the fact. In California, it revealed the identity of the Golden State Killer, and resulted in his convictions for his murderous crimes. The case of the Claremont murders is the latest example of crimes catching up to killers long afterwards, all thanks to DNA.

The Claremont killer
THE FACTS

The murders

On 27 January 1996, a secretary aged 18 named Sarah Spiers disappeared after leaving Club Bay View in Claremont and calling a taxi from a nearby phone booth. Her body was never found.

On 9 June 1996, Jane Rimmer, a 23 year old childcare worker, was last seen alive outside Claremont’s Continental Hotel on 3 August 1996, Her body was found in bushland at Wellard in Perth’s south on March 15, 1997.

Ciara Glennon, a solicitor aged 27, was last seen in Claremont after visiting the Continental Hotel on 3 April 1997. Her body was later found in bushland at Eglinton in Perth’s north.

A male driver, either in a Telstra vehicle or identifying himself as a Telstra worker, had been seen giving lifts to women in Claremont or neighbouring Cottesloe.

The investigation

It was clear that a serial killer who preyed on young women in Claremont’s pubs and clubs was responsible for these horrible murders, but despite unprecedented publicity and police appeals for help, police were unable to close in on a suspect. As the years rolled on, it seemed that the Claremont killer might never be brought to justice.

In November 2016, a kimono (traditional Japanese garment) stained with semen left behind during an earlier attack on a woman in her Huntingdale home was finally tested, with DNA matching cellular material found under Ms Glennon’s fingernails. The following month, investigators discovered that fingerprints taken from an attempted break-in in 1988 matched prints in the national database taken from the man who was convicted of attacking a Hollywood Hospital social worker from behind, covering her mouth and dragging her towards toilets in 1991 during a shift he was working for Telstra. That man was Bradley Robert Edwards.

Edwards was subsequently raided at his home and charged with all three Claremont murders, as well as the Huntingdale and Karrakatta attacks. During a police interview, he denied being responsible for the Claremont murders, or the Huntingdale and Karrakatta attacks.

The trial

In a twist, Edwards pleaded guilty to the Huntingdale and Karrakatta attacks, but not guilty to the Claremont murders.

In November 2020, a 95 day judge-only trial commenced, and it finally concluded on 25 June 2020 after delays caused by the Prosecutor suffering illness. It is believed to be the most expensive criminal trial in WA history.

Edwards did not give evidence and his legal team did not call any fibre or DNA witnesses, as had been expected.

The prosecution argued the combination of factors linking the murders to Edwards were too overwhelming for anyone else to be responsible. This included:

● Edwards’s DNA being found under the fingernails of Ms Glennon

● Fibres matching Telstra clothing being found on the bodies of Ms Glennon, Ms Rimmer and a young woman Edwards has confessed to raping

● Fibres matching the car Edwards drove at the time of the murders also being found on the two women’s bodies

● The behaviour he has previously exhibited in attacking vulnerable women not known to him or barely known.

Edwards’ Defence Counsel Paul Yovich SC argued that:

● Critical DNA could have got there through accidentally being contaminated at the PathWest laboratories with a sample of Edwards’ DNA being kept there from the 1995 rape

● Fibres found on the bodies of Ms Glennon and Ms Rimmer and the teenager he raped could have got there from another source

● Edwards’ behaviour in attacking the teenager was markedly different from the way the state says the three women were likely lured into his car and murdered

● Edwards’ known activities in the hours before and following when Ms Spiers went missing meant he would barely have had enough time to kill her.

RELEVANT LAW

Basic Principles

At common law, a person charged with a criminal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law (Woolmington v DPP [1935] AC 462; Howe v R (1980) 32 ALR 478).

The presumption is not that the accused is not guilty, it is that the accused is innocent (R v Palmer (1992) 64 A Crim R 1). The presumption of innocence is only relevant to the accused. It is a misdirection to tell the jury that witnesses are presumed to be innocent (Howe v R (1980) 32).

Murder

Section 268 of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (WA) provides that:

“Killing a person is unlawful It is unlawful to kill any person unless such killing is authorised or justified or excused by law.”

Section 279 of the Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 relevantly provides that:

“Murder

(1) If a person unlawfully kills another person and —

(a) the person intends to cause the death of the person killed or another person; or

(b) the person intends to cause a bodily injury of such a nature as to endanger, or be likely to endanger, the life of the person killed or another person; or

(c) the death is caused by means of an act done in the prosecution of an unlawful purpose, which act is of such a nature as to be likely to endanger human life,
the person is guilty of murder.

(4) A person, other than a child, who is guilty of murder must be sentenced to life imprisonment unless —

(a) that sentence would be clearly unjust given the circumstances of the offence and the person; and

(b) the person is unlikely to be a threat to the safety of the community when released from imprisonment, in which case, subject to subsection

(5A), the person is liable to imprisonment for 20 years.”

Accused giving evidence

Section 8 of the Evidence Act 1906 (WA) relevantly provides that:

“Accused persons in criminal cases

(1) Except as in this Act it is otherwise provided, every person charged with an offence shall be a competent but not a compellable witness at every stage of the proceedings whether the person so charged is charged solely or jointly with any other person: Provided as follows —

(a) a person so charged shall not be called as a witness except upon his own application;

(c) the failure of any person charged with an offence to give evidence shall not be made the subject of any comment by the prosecution;

(d) a person charged and being a witness in pursuance of this section may be asked any question in cross-examination, notwithstanding that it would tend to criminate him as to the offence charged”

WA SUPREME COURT DECISION

Justice Stephen Hall has found Bradley Robert Edwards guilty of the murders of Ciara Glennon and Jane Rimmer, but not that of Sarah Spiers.

Justice Stephen Hall found that there were significant similarities between the circumstances of the disappearances and deaths of Ciara Glennon and Jane Rimmer. On the other hand, he held that similarities of Sarah Spiers’ death were of a more general nature, and far fewer than those between Ms Rimmer and Ms Glennon, and did not allow a conclusion to be reached beyond reasonable doubt that the person who killed Ms Rimmer and Ms Glennon must necessarily be the same person as killed Ms Spiers.

Edwards will later be sentenced for the two Claremont murders, as well as the Huntingdale and Karrakatta attacks.

An appeal is expected by Edwards, although this is a mixed result.

CONCLUSION

Justice Stephen Hall’s verdicts should bring an end to the case of the Claremont murders. Subject to any appeal, Bradley Robert Edwards is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars for two of three appalling crimes that terrorised the nightclub scene in Perth. The DNA evidence was critical in bringing Edwards to justice and solving one of Australia’s biggest crime mysteries, more than 20 years later.

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