With riots engulfing the US at the same time as the world continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, you could be forgiven for not realising the biggest murder trial in WA history is drawing to a climax.
For the past six months, Bradley Robert Edwards has stood trial accused of some of Australia’s most notorious crimes the Claremont serial killings.
Edwards, 51, is accused of wilfully murdering Sarah Spiers, Jane Rimmer and Ciara Glennon after they went missing from the wealthy Perth suburb of Claremont on separate nights in 1996 and 1997.
Who were the Claremont victims?
Sarah Spiers. Jane Rimmer. Ciara Glennon. Three women whose names were etched into Perth’s consciousness more than 20 years ago.
His trial finally got underway in November last year, more than two decades after the three young women vanished and almost three years after he was arrested and charged.
There is one last element of the trial to take place before Justice Stephen Hall retires to consider his verdict.
Here’s a recap of where we’re at and what happens next.
What’s happening in court this week?
The trial resumes this week after a four-week break. It was supposed to resume today but was adjourned at the last moment.
The four-week recess was to allow the prosecution and defence enough time to prepare their closing arguments.
Now that all the evidence has been presented and witnesses have finished testifying, those closing arguments will begin this week.
Lead prosecutor Carmel Barbagallo SC will be the first to present her case, then it will be the turn of defence counsel Paul Yovich SC.
Remind me what happened before the break?
The last day of the trial before the recess was memorable for its surprise twist.
Edwards consistently denied having anything to do with the murders in his police interview.(ABC News)
The court was played the last part of the police interview with Edwards, which took place over a 12-hour period on the day of his arrest in December 2016.
Throughout the interview, Edwards denied any involvement in the killings, or in separate attacks on two young women one of them the violent rape and abduction of a 17-year-old girl at Karrakatta Cemetery in 1995.
But late last year, before the trial started, he admitted the rape as well as the assault of an 18-year-old woman in her bed at her Huntingdale home.
Guilty plea rocks Claremont trial
Bradley Edwards has pleaded guilty to raping a teen girl in a cemetery and attacking an 18-year-old woman in her home.
The prosecution said his lies in this instance showed it was entirely plausible he could have lied when he told detectives he had nothing to do with the three murders.
With the video interview finished, Ms Barbagallo announced the prosecution had finished its evidence.
Justice Hall then asked Edwards if he would like to testify in his own defence and he declined.
It was then over to Mr Yovich to open the defence case.
But in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance, Mr Yovich declined to call any witnesses or mount a case.
To the surprise of many, he instead produced weather records from the Gosnells area in 1996 and asked for them to be adduced, before sitting down again.
Does that mean there’s no defence case?
Mr Yovich has vigorously cross-examined witnesses throughout the trial, especially those relating to the crucial DNA and fibre evidence, seeking to test the veracity of their assertions.
His opening address made it clear the defence’s case was a straightforward one.
Paul Yovich says the defence case is simply that Edwards did not murder the three women.(ABC News: Charlotte Hamlyn)
“Your Honour, Bradley Edwards’s defence to the charges he faces and each of them is simple. It wasn’t him,” Mr Yovich told Justice Hall back in November.
Like his opening address, his final summation is expected to be brief, centring on the argument that the prosecution has failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt any of the three wilful murder charges against his client.
What is the prosecution’s case?
In contrast, the prosecution case is lengthy and involves complex evidence.
To summarise, it includes:
- DNA evidence: most crucially a sample of Edwards’s DNA found on a combined sample of two of Ms Glennon’s fingernails
- Fibre evidence: a collection of 98 critical fibres, many found on the bodies of Ms Rimmer and Ms Glennon, that match other fibres, including those from the car Edwards was driving when the women vanished, the work uniform he would have worn during that period and fibres from the shorts of the rape victim
- The Telstra Living Witnesses: women who had been out and about in the Claremont area at night during 1996 and 1997 and reported being offered lifts home by a man who broadly matched Edwards’s description, driving a car similar to those he drove at the time
- Propensity behaviour and lies: Edwards’s proven track record of unprovoked violence towards women the vicious Karrakatta rape, the Huntingdale assault and a 1990 attack on a woman at Hollywood Hospital make it more likely he committed the murders. Plus he lied to police.
So what’s next?
Ms Barbagallo is likely to take the best part of two days to wrap up the state’s case and lay out before Justice Hall the arguments why Edwards should be convicted of the three murders.
Prosecution lawyers, lead by Carmel Barbagallo (centre), are likely to take almost two days to sum up their case against Edwards.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)
Then it will be Mr Yovich’s turn to rebut those arguments and explain why any such conviction would be unjust.
After that, it’s down to Justice Hall to make up his mind.
When will we have a verdict?
The judge is expected to deliberate for several months.
During this time he has to revise more than 10,000 pages of transcript encompassing hundreds of witnesses.
Justice Stephen Hall is likely to take some time to consider his verdict.(Supplied)
And unlike a jury trial, his decision has to be made in written form, detailing the reasons why he has reached his conclusion.
As far as possible, he needs to make sure his judgment does not leave open anything that could give grounds for an appeal.
Some say this is an impossible task and that, whichever way he rules, an appeal is likely.
So even when the judgment is handed down, the case of the Claremont serial killings may not be over.
Claremont serial killings more on this story