Man accused of 1982 murder granted bail

Margaret Scheikowski

A man accused of murdering a woman whose body was found in bushland near Newcastle more than three decades ago has been granted bail.

Justice Elizabeth Fullerton on Thursday described the strength of the crown case against Rodney Lawrence as "moderate" at best and noted he had been in custody since his arrest in October 2015.

Lawrence, 66, has pleaded not guilty to the stabbing murder of Elizabeth Dixon, 31, whose body was discovered in her car in bushland at Ashtonfield, near Newcastle, in April 1982.

He also denies an alternative charge of being an accessory after the fact.

His Newcastle trial is due to start on November 13.

In granting bail in the NSW Supreme Court, the judge said by the time of the trial Lawrence would otherwise have been in custody for just over two years.

His barrister, Chris Bruce SC, submitted that a statement made by Lawrence's son weakened the crown case on the murder charge and could provide a defence to the accessory charge.

Lawrence has consistently maintained that his now-dead father-in-law, William Phillips, was the killer and Lawrence later helped him because he was threatened.

The judge said the additional evidence went to Lawrence's state of mind at the time of the alleged offence and over the ensuing years.

She referred to the absence of forensic evidence, saying the crown case wholly depended on what was said to be inconsistencies in what Lawrence said to police in 2015 and other accounts.

The Crown described some of this evidence as "inherently far-fetched".

Having regard to the "moderate strength" of the crown case, and a further delay of seven months before the trial, Justice Fullerton concluded continued custody was not justified.

Lawrence's supporters have agreed to deposit $32,500 for his bail while another will forfeit $40,000 if he fails to turn up for trial.

Other bail conditions include reporting to police daily and not contacting any prosecution witnesses.