DNA scandal prompts man found guilty of murder to consider appeal

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Posted

May 15, 2017 19:21:27

A DNA scandal that has rocked Western Australia’s justice system has prompted a man serving a life sentence for murder to consider a fresh appeal.

Cameron Mansell’s case is understood to be one of 27 under scrutiny following the sacking of a senior forensic scientist for breaching protocols.

Mansell, who has always maintained his innocence, is six years into a sentence for murdering his business acquaintance Craig Puddy in 2010.

In a letter to his solicitor Tim Saayman, Mansell says he is considering whether to petition WA’s Attorney General for his case to be revisited.

“There is substantive concern by Mr Mansell that the DNA material utilised in his case was compromised or was at the very least inadmissible in the form it was presented,” Mr Saayman told 7.30.

The development follows the dismissal of veteran forensic biologist Laurance Webb from testing laboratory PathWest.

It has been alleged Mr Webb failed to have results peer reviewed between 2008 and 2014 before releasing them to police.

Engaged as an expert witness, he gave evidence for two days at Mansell’s trial in 2011.

According to an “evidentiary certificate” tendered at the trial, peer review is one of the procedures required to ensure “scientific and technical correctness”.

PathWest said it reviewed the cases Mr Webb was involved in and found no incorrect results were ever communicated to police or the Department of Public Prosecutions.

DNA evidence ‘insignificant’ say victim’s family

Mr Puddy’s family said it was saddened Mansell was once again considering an appeal.

“The DNA in this case was insignificant to his conviction,” his father Laurie said in a statement to 7.30.

“Mr Mansell refused to take the stand in his own defence, he burnt his vehicle, his clothing and other evidence, he stole boat ownership documents and he absconded to the eastern states.

“Mr Mansell’s conviction did not at any time hinge on DNA evidence which would be apparent to anyone reading the transcript of the trial.”

Prosecutors claimed Mansell attacked Craig Puddy with a blunt object at his Mount Pleasant home, put his body in a wheelie bin and dumped it at an undisclosed location after a confrontation over money.

His body was never found.

Mansell’s fingerprint was found on the bin and his black Jeep Cherokee was discovered burnt out in bushland.

The DNA evidence was one part of a compelling circumstantial case against Mansell, whose version of events was that Mr Puddy was beaten by a group of men over a drug debt.

The defence lawyer at his trial, Anthony Eyers, maintained the DNA evidence by Mr Webb played an important role in the prosecution’s case.

“To put it in perspective, there were 178 witnesses called by the state in that trial,” he said.

“Mr Webb was obviously only one of those but the area in which he gave evidence was very significant.

“DNA evidence was a key strand of the evidence relied upon against Mr Mansell to inferentially place him in certain locations, in contact with certain items which in turn led to inferences that he did certain things that he is alleged to have done and that he murdered Mr Puddy.”

Forensic scientist says retrials unlikely

Since the Laurance Webb controversy another DNA bungle by PathWest has been revealed, where an innocent man was convicted of a 2004 burglary following a DNA mix-up.

The two incidents have prompted three separate Government reviews, including a re-examination of the cases involving Mr Webb.

Alastair Ross, the retired director of the National Institute of Forensic Sciences (NIFS), has been appointed to investigate the 27 cases which may have been affected by the alleged breach of protocols.

In WA’s close-knit community of forensic scientists, there’s scepticism over the scandals engulfing Pathwest.

Brendan Chapman used to work at the agency and now lectures at Perth’s Murdoch University.

“These situations were both self-reported by the laboratory,” Mr Chapman said.

“And, in my mind, rather than criticising a laboratory that is being transparent, upfront and open, we should probably be applauding them for recognising the mistake and reporting it.

“Having worked with a lot of the staff there, I know that they are all fantastic scientists and professional practitioners in forensics.”

Mr Chapman said PathWest has to comply with strict Australian and international standards and believes the incident involving Mr Webb had led to some “sensationalised opinions” on the possible fall-out.

“I’ve got absolute confidence that there’s no discrepancy in any of the results that would lead to such a thing as re-trials,” Mr Chapman said.

Topics:

forensic-science,

crime,

law-crime-and-justice,

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