Freedom for man acquitted of cop killings

·2-min read

For more than 20 years Jason Roberts languished behind bars as a maximum security prisoner locked up for the ambush murder of two Victoria Police officers.

He walked into prison aged 19 and came out in July this year after jurors in a retrial ordered by Victoria's Court of Appeal found him not guilty of killing Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller in 1998.

But Roberts, now 42, is not free of convictions.

He admitted before his trial that he was involved in 10 armed robberies alongside Bandali Debs, the father of his then-girlfriend, and the man who is serving a life sentence for the officers' murders.

Victorian Supreme Court Justice Stephen Kaye must now sentence Roberts for those robberies but told Roberts he was firmly of the view he should serve no more prison time.

The armed robberies were designed to be terrifying, and they did instil terror in their victims, Justice Kaye said.

But Roberts has 22 years of time served.

"Common sense dictated your client isn't going to get anywhere near 22 years, whichever way I look at it," he said.

Roberts and Debs were armed with loaded weapons, their victims were tied up, had weapons pointed at them and had their personal belongings stolen from them.

"No doubt they would have been in very great fear," Roberts' barrister David Hallowes SC said.

While Roberts was a willing participant in the 10 armed robberies, codenamed Hamada by investigators, Mr Hallowes described Debs as a corrupting influence and a "Svengali" figure.

"That's not to say Jason Roberts didn't have choices, that he was not in a position to ignore Bandali Debs and say 'I"m not doing this'," he said.

"But we say he was a 17-year-old - someone without the maturity of an adult - (and) that there is an element of him being corrupted by Bandali Debs."

Debs was leader, the planner and the more aggressive participant in the robberies, he said.

Roberts, who is on bail, has had some difficulty adjusting to life outside prison.

But there is optimism and hope for the future given supports, including from his family, Mr Hallowes said.

Although Roberts had pleaded not guilty to the charges in his original trial, there was remorse and regret for his actions now.

Roberts first admitted his part in the robberies in a statement to then-detective Ron Iddles in 2013.

The court heard Roberts spent a period effectively in solitary confinement because he needed protection.

The harsh conditions included limitations on visitors and phone calls and more time locked in his cell, where he was confined and socially isolated, Mr Hallowes said.

"We say those conditions are equivalent to a significantly longer loss of liberty than under ordinary conditions," he said.

Justice Kaye will hand down his sentence on Monday.