Twist as missing campers trial comes to end

Gregory Stuart Lynn, 57, is facing trial. Artist: Paul Tyquin
Gregory Stuart Lynn, 57, is facing trial. Artist: Paul Tyquin

Jurors in the double-murder trial of former Jetstar captain Gregory Lynn have been told alternative charges of manslaughter are now “no longer available”.

Mr Lynn, 57, is facing trial in the Victorian Supreme Court after pleading not guilty to the murders of Russell Hill, 74, and Carol Clay, 73, on March 20, 2020.

On Thursday, the 14-person jury returned to court as Justice Michael Croucher began “summing up” the case.

He told jurors at the start of the trial that manslaughter was open as an alternative charge to murder.

“Before I embark on the greater detail, it’s necessary to inform you of this … manslaughter will no longer be available to you as an alternative charge,” he said.

“If you are not satisfied of murder, there will be no basis for an alternative verdict of manslaughter.

“Accordingly, you must put manslaughter out of your minds. The only charges before you are murder.”

Justice Croucher explained that, in the circumstances of the case, both parties agreed if the jury found the prosecution could not prove murder, a manslaughter verdict “would be wrong”.

COURT - MISSING CAMPERS
The former pilot has pleaded not guilty, maintaining his actions were “despicable” but he is innocent of murder. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Luis Enrique Ascui

Mr Lynn’s wife, Melanie, clutched a gold charm bracelet, often with her eyes closed, as Justice Croucher delivered his jury directions.

Justice Croucher said jurors would need to put aside their sympathy and morals and view the evidence as objective judges of the facts.

“This is not about Mr Lynn doing a terrible thing by destroying the bodies,” he said.

“Any personal feelings of sympathy or bias … must be put out of your minds as you consider this case.”

Trial is in the ‘home straight’: Judge

Justice Croucher told jurors that over the past month, they’d heard from 49 witnesses, including other campers in the region, police, experts and Mr Lynn himself.

“It might be said we’re in the home straight,” he said.

Justice Croucher told the jury they must enter deliberations viewing Mr Lynn as an innocent man who “does not need to prove anything”, unless the prosecution was able to displace that.

Giving an overview of both parties’ submissions, the Supreme Court judge said the prosecution’s “circumstantial” case was asking the jury to infer the only reason Mr Lynn would burn the campsite, dispose of the couple’s belongings and bodies and paint his car and trailer was because he “believed” he had murdered Mr Hill and Mrs Clay.

Mr Lynn’s defence, he said, submitted that the jury should accept his account of two accidental deaths and explanation of why he hid his involvement.

At the least, Justice Croucher said Mr Dann argued, the jury cannot excuse Mr Lynn’s account as a possibility.

“If there is any reasonable circumstance not consistent with murder, you must find him not guilty,” he told the jury.

“From start to finish it is the prosecution that has the burden of proof.”

Carol Clay and Russell Hill vanished in March 2020. Picture: Supplied.
Carol Clay and Russell Hill vanished in March 2020. Picture: Supplied.

Prosecutor breached “basic rule of fairness”: Judge

Justice Croucher told the jury the prosecution was arguing the jury could use 11 actions taken by Mr Lynn after the deaths as “incriminating conduct” that allegedly points to his belief he had murdered the couple.

These included Mr Lynn’s failure to report the deaths, his efforts to hide his involvement and returning to the bodies twice —incinerating Mr Hill and Mrs Clay’s remains in November 2020.

The judge said Mr Lynn accepts this “terrible and selfish” conduct occurred, doing so not because he had murdered the pair, but because he feared he would be wrongly blamed.

“It is for the prosecution to satisfy you the only reasonable explanation is because he had murdered Mr Hill and Mrs Clay,” Justice Croucher said.

Justice Croucher told the jury crown prosecutor Daniel Porceddu had failed to directly challenge Mr Lynn on this on the stand, instead arguing it was “implicit” in his questioning.

“Had he asked these questions Mr Lynn could have been able to respond in a powerful and compelling way,” he said.

“Therefore you must take into account that Mr Lynn was not given the chance to respond to the imputation ... because of this breach of the basic rules of fairness, you may more readily reject the prosecution arguments and the inferences the prosecution wants you to draw.”

He reminded jurors Mr Lynn had no obligation to speak to police or take the stand, saying this did not change that the prosecution had to prove his guilt.

MISSING CAMPERS
Justice Croucher said Daniel Porceddu had failed to challenge Mr Lynn. Picture: David Geraghty / NewsWire

The elderly couple vanished while camping in the remote Wonnangatta Valley, with the discovery of their charred campsite prompting an investigation that led to the then-airline pilot’s arrest 20 months later.

Over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, jurors heard closing arguments from crown prosecutor Daniel Porceddu and defence barrister Dermot Dann KC.

Mr Porceddu told the jury the prosecution’s case centred on the “deliberate” series of actions taken by Mr Lynn to hide his involvement in their deaths.

“As I said at the start of the case, the prosecution cannot say the motive or precise circumstances of Mr Hill and Mrs Clay’s death,” he said.

“However, what we do say is that it is likely Mr Lynn bore some animosity towards Mr Hill and Mrs Clay and most probably towards Mr Hill.”

On the prosecution case, the jury heard, the three people were the only ones camping at Bucks Camp on the night in question, with the accused man “the last person left alive”.

The couple’s burnt campsite was located in the days following their alleged murder. Picture: Supplied/ Supreme Court of Victoria.
The couple’s burnt campsite was located in the days following their alleged murder. Picture: Supplied/ Supreme Court of Victoria.

Mr Porceddu said Mr Lynn’s actions after the alleged murder, including cleaning and burning the campsite and, disposing of the bodies only to return eight months later to “incinerate” them, were taken because he knew the forensic evidence would reveal that fact.

He suggested the only reasonable explanation for the “completely disproportionate” acts was murder.

Mr Porceddu urged the jury to reject Mr Lynn’s account of two accidental deaths as “fanciful”, saying it did not stand up to scrutiny.

“The accused’s story is indeed a series of very unfortunate events,” he said.

“Like the book series it is also a complete fiction, you can and should reject it readily beyond all reasonable doubt.”

Mr Dann told the court the steps taken by Mr Lynn were not in dispute, but were borne out of panic and fearing he would be wrongly blamed.

He said prosecutors had 2 ½ years to disprove his account and could not prove anything he said was a lie.

The former pilot has written notes throughout the trial. Picture: Supplied
The former pilot has written notes throughout the trial. Picture: Supplied

Mr Dann said that over the weeks of evidence the prosecution’s case had become “weaker and weaker” while Mr Lynn’s account “only looks stronger and stronger”.

Mr Dann labelled Mr Porceddu “Old Clouseau” – a reference to the clumsy fictional detective in the Pink Panther series — accusing him of taking a
“series of desperate and ill-fated tactical manoeuvres” that at times broke the rules of fairness.

We call out this prosecution case for what it is – it’s descended into a hopeless mess,” he said.

“It’s been a shambles. There’s no other word to describe it.”

This week, Justice Michael Croucher advised the jury that following the closing arguments he would begin delivering his charge.

“I’ll commence giving you my charge, or summing up, where I explain the law and try and bundle it up in a way that directs you on the issues that you need to decide,” he said.

This, he said, was expected to take all of Thursday and possibly spill over into Friday.

Following this a balloting process will see the jury reduced from 14 to 12 and the remaining jurors will be sent out to consider their verdicts.

The trial continues.