The trial against Bevan Spencer von Einem for the murder of Richard Kelvin opened at the Supreme Court Building of South Australia on 15 October 1984 before Mr. Justice White. A jury of 12 people (seven women and five men) were selected and were agreed upon by the prosecution and defence. Von Einem pleaded not guilty, and his defence was led by barrister Barry Jennings, and was assisted by Helena Jasinski, who was von Einem's solicitor from the start of the police investigation of him in the murder during the previous year. The prosecution was led by Brian Martin QC (who is currently the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory), with assistance from Paul Rofe QC (who went on to be Director of the Department of Public Prosecutions). For the prosecution, it was a matter of proving von Einem's guilt (along with unknown persons) by presenting the strong scientific evidence that was gathered during the investigation, and disproving von Einem's story of being in contact with Richard Kelvin on the night of 5 June 1983. For the defence, it was a case of trying to make von Einem's story hold up in court, and raising doubts about von Einem's ability to keep Richard Kelvin captive for five weeks and committing the murder.
The prosecution opened their case with the jury being taken to the various sites around Adelaide that were important in the trial, and over the first week they called various witnesses to the stand. Kelvin's parents, girlfriend and best friend were called to testify that Kelvin was an average 15-year-old who would not willingly get into a car with a stranger, was heterosexual with no homosexual or bisexual tendencies and that he was wearing the dog collar as a prank. People living close to the Kelvins then testified that they heard noises and commotion corresponding to the abduction taking place on the night of 5 June at around 6pm. Forensic pathologists were called to testify about the injuries to the head and anus on Kelvin's body and the likely cause of his death, and pharmacists gave evidence of the excessive amount of different hypnotic drugs von Einem had been prescribed (5172 tablets and capsules of six different brands of drugs between 15 December 1978 and 10 August 1983), and showed that von Einem often had prescriptions for drugs issued from different chemists on the same day or during the same weeks. Various police who worked on the case testified to their investigation of von Einem since they first questioned him about the murder, as well as their visit to von Einem's home where a police officer claimed that von Einem's bedroom appeared to have been unusually cleaned quite "extensively".
Forensic scientists were called next to testify firstly when Kelvin died and when his body was dumped in the Adelaide Hills area, and a leading entomologist claimed, from the larvae cycle of flies that were on the body, and comparing these to the larvae cycle of flies on a dead dog that was nearby, that Kelvin's body must have been dumped beside the airstrip near Kersbrook on 10 July 1983. Other forensic scientists were called to testify about the hair and fibre samples collected that were linked to von Einem himself and his home. Hairs from von Einem were found on and inside Kelvin's clothing and of 925 fibre samples found on Kelvin's clothing, 250 came from von Einem's home environment, with just seven from Kelvin's home. The scientists stated that if von Einem's story was true, then there should be a very small amount or even none of the fibres and hair samples from that night still on Kelvin's clothing some 36 hours later, let alone five weeks later. Faced with such damning scientific evidence, the defence tried to counter this during cross-examination by floating a possible theory that after von Einem's last contact with Kelvin, he was abducted by other people, who stored his clothing for five weeks before murdering him and re-dressing him. While the forensic scientists conceded that this was a possible scenario, under recross-examination by the prosecution, they conceded that it would be still unlikely given the whole science of how fibres and hair are transferred from surface to surface over time. The prosecution then rested their case.
The defence opted for von Einem to give an unsworn statement from the dock, rather than given sworn evidence from the witness box. In his unsworn statement, von Einem detailed his alibi with what he claimed happened in his life between 5 June and 11 July 1983. He again claimed on 5 June he picked up Kelvin in North Adelaide, drove him to his home, and then dropped him off in the Adelaide CBD. He also claimed that he was sick with the flu for the next week after that and did not return to work until 14 June. Von Einem said he was quite sketchy on his activities after that, however he did remember what he did on 10 July, the day the body was dumped on the airstrip. He said that he was at a relative's birthday party with his mother for most of that evening, and after dropping off a friend on the way home, went straight to bed and went to work the next day. Von Einem also addressed the issue of the noisy exhaust on the car heard during the abduction of Kelvin, by stating that the exhaust on his Ford Falcon (which he sold on 16 July 1983 to raise money for his overseas trip) was less than two years old and in good condition. Von Einem closed his unsworn statement by again claiming his innocence.
The defence then called various witnesses in an attempt to corroborate von Einem's story. The witnesses included colleagues and friends of his to testify of him being unwell and at home during the first week of Richard Kelvin's captivity. Also testifying for the defence was the bushwalker, who while walking his dogs through the airstrip discovered Kelvin' body on 24 July. Others called to give testimony for the defence were the woman who purchased von Einem's Ford Falcon who detailed the condition of the car, and the relative who hosted the birthday party on 10 July who said that von Einem and his mother arrived there at 5:30pm and left at 10:30pm. Photographs of the party that included von Einem were also tendered to the court. Finally, the defence called von Einem's mother to testify about her son's activities over the weekend when Richard Kelvin was kidnapped. Under cross-examination, the prosecution were able to show inconsistencies in her current testimony compared to her earlier statements to police about von Einem's whereabouts on the weekend of 4–5 June, which weakened von Einem's case considerably as this highlighted von Einem's change the previous February of his account of what happened on the night of 5 June 1983.
In their summation, the prosecution stated that the evidence they presented proved that von Einem's story was full of lies and inconsistencies, and that he did murder (with the help of others) Richard Kelvin. They also stated that his admittance of picking up Kelvin showed that he was in contact with him on 5 June, the fibres and hairs proved that von Einem was with him at the time of just before and/or at the time of death, and the drugs proved von Einem was with Kelvin in between those times. The prosecution also answered the doubts raised by the defence about when on 10 July the body was dumped at the airstrip, by suggesting that von Einem could have dumped the body sometime very late on 10 July or in the early morning of 11 July before von Einem went to work for the day.
The defence stated in their summary that the prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that von Einem was guilty of murder and also weren't able to establish the exact cause of Kelvin's death, so therefore the jury must give von Einem the benefit of the doubt.
Mr. Justice White then gave his summation of the trial, and in the early afternoon of 5 November 1984, the jury retired to consider their verdict.
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