Evidence cut in Virgin Mary murder case

Karen Sweeney
·2-min read

Prosecutors have dropped key evidence of a former homicide detective in a Victorian murder trial a day after a judge suggested she might find he was an "outright liar".

Elia Abdelmessih was found bludgeoned to death in his Kew home in 2005, beside suspected murder weapons including a tin of mangoes and a Virgin Mary statue.

Susan Reddie - a woman who was being paid for sex by the 69-year-old widower - was initially identified as a suspect in the case and police notes record she confessed three times to the crime.

But another woman, Katia Pyliotis, was tried four times and convicted of the murder in 2018. She was acquitted by the Court of Appeal earlier this year and her lawyers are now fighting against a fifth trial.

In previous trials former detective Warren Ryan, now a Queensland police officer, has said Ms Reddie recanted a confession she made to a care worker.

He had claimed notes from a missing police diary would corroborate his story, but when the diary was uncovered earlier this year it allegedly revealed another confession.

Mr Ryan's notes recorded a claim Ms Reddie admitted repeatedly hitting Mr Abdelmessih with a statue of Jesus after having sex with him for $20, and that she was drunk and angry.

During an application by Pyliotis' lawyers for a permanent stay, Victorian Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth said she would take some persuading that Mr Ryan was not lying.

"I have serious issues about Ryan's credibility and I might well find he's an outright liar," she said.

On Wednesday morning prosecutor Angela Ellis revealed a decision not to call evidence about the recantation in a fifth trial.

She said defence might seek to introduce the evidence themselves, but it would not form part of the crown case.

Justice Hollingworth suggested the prosecution's decision might prompt further discussions between defence and Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC about continuing the prosecution.

Pyliotis is currently on bail.

The court also heard on Wednesday that retired detective Lucio Rovis - who headed the homicide unit investigating the murder - had no memory of Ms Reddie even when confronted with claims he told fresh investigators just three years about her being established as a suspect.

"It certainly doesn't ring a bell," he said when asked about what he told detectives in October 2017.

Ms Reddie had been interviewed by police about the murder before she confessed to her care worker, and there was no follow-up interview.

Mr Rovis defended his fellow officers when questioned whether not interviewing her again meant something had gone "horribly wrong" with the investigation.

"If an alleged confession was made to any of the members who worked on my crew at the time, I am certain without a doubt they would have passed that on because they were all very competent, experienced detectives," he said.

The case will return to court next month.