NSW man denies murdering lover in 2012

·3-min read

A NSW horse farrier who denies murdering his lover has told a judge he was bemused at learning his rock solid alibi had disintegrated.

James "Jim" Scott Church said he didn't understand it when his friend revealed he had been away at the time he originally thought Church had come around for dinner.

But Church testified sometime after the revelation, he remembered he had gone to his friend's property but had sat outside in his car for hours unsuccessfully waiting for him to come home.

He had done the same two days earlier, a time when the Crown alleges he was in the area driving to remote locations to locate a site to dispose of the body of the woman he was planning to murder.

The 53-year-old was cross-examined in the NSW Supreme Court on Thursday at his judge-alone trial before Justice Elizabeth Fullerton.

He's pleaded not guilty to murdering 23-year-old Leisl Smith, who disappeared on August 19, 2012.

Her body has never been found.

The Crown alleges Church killed her after she told people she was pregnant to him and because he wanted to save his new relationship with Belinda Lees.

But the defence contends other scenarios could not be ruled out including that Ms Smith's violent ex-boyfriend was involved or that she disappeared on purpose.

After being interviewed by police a number of times and then shown CCTV footage, Church admitted giving Ms Smith a lift at Tuggerah railway station on August 19, saying he then dropped her off at Wyong.

Under questioning from prosecutor Kate Ratcliffe, Church denied manipulating Ms Smith's phone after her disappearance to make out she was still alive.

He said he did not retrieve voicemails and texts, including from her worried father, before sending messages to deflect attention from himself.

He also denied using the phone to call his own landline, but agreed he had told police he had received unanswered calls from her after her disappearance.

Asked why he hadn't returned the calls, he said: "I truly believed she was missing".

The judge asked why he didn't call the missing woman he had described as "my best friend".

"I don't have a definitive reason why," he replied.

When the judge asked if he had any reason, he replied: "I didn't want to have any drama".

He agreed he had lied to his girlfriend Belinda Lees about his whereabouts on August 19.

"The reason you lied about where you had been was if you told her the truth, it would have revealed you had taken Ms Smith .... and intentionally killed her," Ms Ratcliffe suggested.

"No, it would have revealed I was off to play horses with my mates," he replied.

Ms Ratcliffe referred Church to texts he sent Ms Lees repeatedly asking for her help after one of his police interviews.

He denied the reason was because he wanted her to support an alibi he had been with her on August 19 and in the early hours of August 20.

"I have never asked Belinda to provide anything or say anything that was not true or lie for me," he said.

Before Church told police he had been visiting his friend for dinner on August 19, his parents reported that they had been at their son's place that day.

Ms Ratcliffe referred Church to a covert tape recording when his mother told his sister: "Jim asked us 'could we say we were out there' and we did".

He denied asking his mother, saying "that is my mother talking, not me".

His cross-examination will continue on Friday.

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