Killer of wife in wheelchair loses appeal

Tim Dornin
·3-min read

An Adelaide man jailed for at least 25 years for killing his wife by pushing her wheelchair into a pond, has lost an appeal against his murder conviction, though one judge would have freed him.

The Court of Criminal Appeal on Monday rejected Peter Rex Dansie's argument that the original verdict, delivered by a judge alone, could not be supported on the evidence at his trial.

In a majority decision, Justices Mark Livesey and Greg Parker both dismissed Dansie's appeal, ruling it was open to the trial judge to find the murder charge proved beyond reasonable doubt.

However, in a dissenting view, Justice Kevin Nicholson would have quashed Dansie's conviction on the basis that it "would be dangerous in all the circumstances to allow the verdict of guilty of murder to stand".

"The drowning of an elderly, wheelchair-bound, woman in a pond is an extraordinary event, but extraordinary events do happen," he said.

"Nevertheless, I start with the proposition that, according to the ordinary experience of human affairs, it is highly unusual for a husband in his late 60s, having been married to his wife for more than 40 years and sole or primary carer for his wife over the previous 22 years or so, to murder her in this way or at all.

"This is an unusual case and unusual in a way that adds to the difficulty of arriving at a decision of guilt beyond reasonable doubt."

Dansie was jailed earlier this year for murdering his 67-year-old wife Helen who drowned after her wheelchair fell into a pond in the Adelaide parklands on Easter Sunday, 2017.

In arguing the appeal, defence lawyer Greg Mead said the trial judge did not give adequate reasons to show his client's guilt had been proven and had not properly considered the prospect that it might have been an accident.

However, the prosecution argued that the trial judge had used a range of elements to reach his verdict including circumstantial evidence and the alleged motives of the accused.

In his reasons for rejecting the appeal, Justice Parker said if taken individually the circumstantial evidence against Dansie was capable of an explanation consistent with innocence.

"However, the fact that individual elements of circumstantial evidence are capable of an innocent explanation does not, of itself, establish that there is a reasonable hypothesis consistent with innocence," he said.

"The circumstantial evidence must be considered in its totality and the matter decided by assessing the cumulative effect of that evidence."

Justice Livesey said Dansie had not revealed a miscarriage of justice requiring intervention by the appeal court.

"There was evidence to support the finding of murder and, in my view, it was certainly sufficient to do so," he said.

After his conviction, Dansie was jailed for life, with Justice David Lovell imposing a 25-year non-parole period.

In his sentencing remarks, Justice Lovell said the 71-year-old was driven by selfish motives.

"Yours was an evil and despicable act," the judge said.

"Helen, your loving and devoted wife for over 40 years, had simply become a burden to you.

"This was a chilling, planned murder of a person whose mistake was to trust you."