Husband to stand trial over 1991 killings
A LONG-FOUGHT battle to overturn two murder-suicide coronial findings has finally succeeded, with an Atherton man committed to stand trial accused of developing a "wicked plan" to shoot two women more than two decades ago.
Alan Noel Thomas Leahy, then 28, reported his wife Julie-Anne Leahy, 26, and her best friend Vicki Arnold, 27, missing on July 26, 1991, insisting they had gone fishing in the early hours of that morning and not returned.
Their decomposing bodies were found 14 days later in Ms Leahy's four-wheel-drive in bushland.
State Coroner Michael Barnes on Friday slammed the subsequent police investigation as he concluded, during a third inquest into the case, that a jury could combine enough circumstantial evidence to convict Alan Noel Thomas Leahy, 49, for the two deaths.
He said the jury could draw guilty inferences from considering "evidence that demonstrates Mr Leahy had the motive, the opportunity and the capacity, inspired by a story he'd read, to gestate a wicked plan to kill the women and falsely inculpate or frame Ms Arnold" with the rest of the case.
"Such a process would not involve speculation, but rather inferences open to the jury having regard to the evidence," he said.
Mr Barnes said there were many gaps in the evidence in this case, some through the passing of time, others through flaws in the original investigation and "still others that just remain a mystery".
He said the first police officer on the scene, without any homicide investigation experience, declared the case a murder-suicide within an hour of arriving.
"Because the assumption was acted upon, vital evidence that may have been collected at the scene was lost when the district officer ordered the bodies and the car removed forthwith," he said.
"Once the initial assessment of murder-suicide was made, some of the other 'facts' subsequently gathered were contorted to fit that theory.
"Evidence that could not be made to fit was ignored.
Previous inquests and inquiries have found Ms Arnold first shot Ms Leahy and then turned the gun on herself.
A jury would have to exclude Ms Arnold shot her best friend before they could convict Mr Leahy.
Mr Barnes said a jury would have regard to evidence indicating Ms Arnold was "most unlikely to have taken her own life and had no interest in or reason to acquire a gun and to modify it".
"They would be entitled to draw an inference that the person who induced her to acquire the gun did so to ensure she was known to be associated with it and was probably the same person who cut it down and who planted the gun parts in her carport after she was dead," he said.
"They could infer that person was also the murderer.
"As the evidence stands, I consider a properly instructed jury could exclude beyond reasonable doubt that Ms Arnold carried out the killings and determine that no one other than Mr Leahy did."
Mr Barnes said his finding did not mean Mr Leahy would go to trial, acknowledging the Director of Public Prosecutions would have difficulty prosecuting the dated case with missing exhibits, faded memories and limited witness availability.
The DPP office said it would consider the evidence brief, once received, against its guidelines and then make a decision on whether to proceed.