NSW appeal court acquits Jeffrey Gilham of parents' murders

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal in Australia has acquitted Jeffrey Gilham of murdering his parents. The ruling, which comes after his convictions were overturned in December, means he will not face a retrial unless there is an appeal to the High Court.

I'm just thrilled to be able to tell our girls that daddy is never going back to prison

—Jeffrey Gilham's wife, Rebecca

The long-running case stretches back to 1993, when Helen and Stephen Gilham were stabbed to death and their home burned. Jeffrey fatally stabbed his brother Christopher Gilham, telling police he attacked Christopher in a rage after discovering his brother had killed his parents. Authorities believed the then 23-year-old Jeffrey, and he served under a month in prison after a guilty plea to Christopher's manslaughter.

Jeffrey's uncle Tony Gilham was unconvinced, launching a campaign against his nephew. The case was reopened and in 2000 a coroner recommended charging Jeffrey with murder. In a trial in 2008, after one in which the jury could not reach a verdict, the court heard expert testimony that 25-year-old Christopher's body had clustered stab wounds similar to those inflicted on Helen and Stephen.

The prosecution also contended the elder Gilhams had been killed before the fire was started. Jeffrey was convicted of murdering his parents and given two life sentences. He spent three years in prison before being released when his convictions were quashed in December, leaving open the question of whether he was to be retried or completely acquitted. The court has now fully acquitted the former convict in a 2–1 majority decision.

The appeal court found the forensic evidence flawed. It heard the prosecution had elected not to bring an expert to the court who felt no conclusions could be drawn from the clustered stab wounds. The court noted clusters are not uncommon, even in cases with multiple killers and victims.

Evidence supporting the fire being lit after the elder Gilhams were dead also came under scrutiny. A US expert contradicted the prosecution case by saying Christopher and the parents had inhaled enough carbon monoxide to demonstrate the fire started before their deaths. This was in opposition to the prosecution expert, who said a low level of the gas in Christopher's body proved he was already dead.

Tony Gilham, who submitted fresh forensic evidence to the appeal court he said undermined the defence, vowed to "fix" his nephew as he left the court. He said he would ask the New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions, Lloyd Babb SC, to appeal to the High Court in a bid to retry the "family killer".

"I'm glad today that I've been acquitted of the charges," Jeffrey said as he too left the court. His wife Rebecca was with him and said "I'm just thrilled to be able to tell our girls that daddy is never going back to prison."