Thursday, March 15, 2012

High profile prosecutor faces accusations

Deborah Cornwall | ABC 730 | 12 March 2012

Gordon Wood's murder conviction over the death of his girlfriend Caroline Byrne was quashed by the NSW Appeal Court leading to questions being asked about other cases overseen by prosecutor Mark Tedeschi.

Watch video here

CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: The career of Australia's highest flying prosecutor is under attack after a scathing judgment from the New South Wales Appeal Court which threw out the murder conviction of Sydney man Gordon Wood over the 1995 death of his girlfriend, model Caroline Byrne. Criminal lawyers have called for a sweeping review of the cases overseen by Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi. He may face a formal complaint over his conduct after the appeal judges found he relied on fiction and dangerous reasoning in the Wood case. Reporter Deborah Cornwall has investigated other cases where the prosecutor has found himself accused.

DEBORAH CORNWALL, REPORTER: For more than two decades, Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi has been the star performer at the most infamous murder trials in the country. From serial killer Ivan Milat and political assassin Phuong Ngo to the highly controversial case of baby killer Keli Lane.

POLICE OFFICER (May, 2003, police video): If something's happened to the child, now is the time to tell us.

KELI LANE, CONVICTED MURDERER: I don't know. Nothing happened. Nothing has happened to her.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: With so many scalps on his belt, it's hardly surprising Mark Tedeschi is a polarising figure, champion of crime victims and the prosecutor defence lawyers love to hate.

TIM ANDERSON, FORMER ANANDA MARGA MEMBER: It seems to me he's a zealot who wants to go for the win.

TONY BYRNE, FATHER OF CAROLINE BYRNE: Mr Tedeschi is a remarkable man.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: The murder conviction of Gordon Wood, one-time chauffeur to the late celebrity stockbroker Rene Rivkin was at the time one of his greatest triumphs.

JOURNALIST (Nov., 2008): ... be one the biggest wins you've had of your career, Mr Tedeschi?


DEBORAH CORNWALL: But two weeks ago, Tedeschi's brilliant career suddenly hit the wall. Three Appeal Court justices threw out the Wood conviction, ordering his release from jail immediately.

PETER MCCLELLAN, CHIEF JUSTICE, NSW COURT OF APPEAL: I have reviewed the whole of the evidence and have concluded that I am not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Gordon Wood murdered Caroline Byrne as charged.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: The appeal judges demolished the prosecution case in which Wood had been accused of hurling his girlfriend, model Caroline Byrne, to her death at The Gap, Sydney's most notorious suicide spot. But the most savage criticism was reserved for Mr Tedeschi, the judges accusing the prosecutor of failing his most basic obligations to put the case fairly to the jury. Instead, they said, Mr Tedeschi had tried to bolster the Crown case by resorting to fiction, impermissible reasoning and innuendo, including rumours Wood had been in a sexual relationship with Rivkin and a series of unsophisticated experiments which were used to convince the jury Caroline Byrne could not have committed suicide.

Caroline Byrne's father was so stunned by the judgment, it's only now he feels ready to comment.

TONY BYRNE: I was hurt and shocked by the judges' comments because they were unfair. And I know and I've got to know Mark Tedeschi and his team and I have the highest regard for them. They are beautiful. They are diligent. They are just a credit to the legal system.

NICK KALDAS, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, NSW POLICE: There are many who criticise Mark Tedeschi. I think the average person needs to think about the track record of someone like Mark Tedeschi, the achievements and the efforts and integrity he's displayed over many decades.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Such was the ferocity of the attack against Mark Tedeschi, he now faces what may prove the most challenging battle of his career: having to defend himself to his peers.

But Mark Tedeschi's detractors say he does have a history of complaints; in fact he's the only prosecutor in the state who's ever faced a legal tribunal over allegations of professional misconduct. To date though, not one complaint has ever stuck.

Former Ananda Marga member Tim Anderson pursued Mark Tedeschi for 12 years after a 1991 Appeal Court decision threw out Anderson's conviction for the murder of three people in the notorious Hilton Hotel bombing.

TIM ANDERSON: The Legal Aid Commission laid almost 50 complaints against Tedeschi to the Bar Council. None of it came to anything. And we see the result with the Gordon Wood case - 20 years on, the conduct hasn't changed at all. The pattern is the same.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Solicitor Paul Kenny says he was another Tedeschi casualty. Kenny had been an undercover detective in the New South Wales Drug Squad when internal affairs police charged him with conspiring to pervert the course of justice and demanding bribes from a heroin dealer.

It was Tedeschi who led the prosecution.

PAUL KENNY, SOLICITOR: If you're a police officer and you're charged, in effect you're finished, your career's finished and you're ruined. I told them from day one what a terrible mistake they'd made. It totally destroyed my life.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: The prosecution ultimately withdrew the charges. Tedeschi later castigated in a judicial inquiry, Justice John Naden noting he found it frightening that Tedeschi didn't even concede the possibility that Kenny was innocent and his whole case had been based on the word of a couple of crooks. But again, the inquiry found no evidence Tedeschi had acted improperly.

PAUL KENNY: I've read Gordon Wood's judgment by Court of Criminal Appeal, the comments by the judges, and they're very similar to the situation that I was in. It seems to be a very similar course of conduct by the prosecutor. You're supposed to present credible witnesses.

NICK KALDAS: The prosecutor is probably the loneliest job in court. He cannot give press conferences. His actions in court are the only way he gets to communicate. Defence lawyers are quite rightly passionate, very active in the media and can say what they like. In a sense it's unfair that one side gets to say and do what they like and the other side has all the checks and balances on it. That's exactly what Mark Tedeschi has around him.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: But Tim Anderson says Tedeschi's very combative advocacy style has been part of a dangerous trend among Crown Prosecutors for decades.

TIM ANDERSON: In the '80s there was a culture where people on the prosecution side wanted to see the gloves coming off a little bit more and that's precisely what the judges have criticised really. That abuse of power is what's been criticised now.

NICK KALDAS: Looking at it from the perspective of someone who's had over a decade involvement in homicide investigations, the last four years as the commander of the homicide squad, I can only say that thank God that Mark Tedeschi has been a Crown Prosecutor in the state of New South Wales.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: Gordon Wood's story is now the target of a major bidding war between the TV networks.

GORDON WOOD: There's so many people in there who don't have any family, whose friends have dropped them and who can't afford lawyers.

DEBORAH CORNWALL: But after just two weeks as a free man, Gordon Wood has already declared he has a new purpose in life as the champion and poster boy for victims of injustice.

TONY BYRNE: I don't care what Gordon Wood's doing or where he is. Diligent men and women who know more about this case than anyone, they have told my family and I to our faces, "Your daughter did not commit suicide. Your daughter was murdered. The jury got it right. The judge got it wrong."

CHRIS UHLMANN: Deborah Cornwall there.

1 comment:

  1. Gordon Wood shows his true, unguarded face on his first 60 Minute interview - cold, calculating, coached in what to say. No feelings revealed other than for himself, and states, unbelievably, that Caroline's "spirit" "led me to the Gap" after her death and that is how he knew where she was! He then has a second go on 60 Minutes and cries and acts very well, and everyone says "Oh, well, then, he has to be innocent". I mean, are we all going to be that stupid and so easily duped? This case demands a re-trial with a panel of Judges, as there is obviously something wrong with the one who let Wood go free.