What would it be like to be imprisoned for a crime you didn’t commit? Worse still, being wrongly convicted of murder, of killing of a person you were supposed to love and protect. How would it be to find yourself despised by all those who had known you, doubted even by those who loved you and reviled in every organ of the media. Perhaps you might have pondered the horror of being trapped in such a nightmare?
That was the reality Henry Keogh lived for two decades.
In 1995 the Adelaide financial consultant was sentenced to life behind bars for the drowning murder of his attractive fiancé, lawyer Anna-Jane Cheney, six weeks before their wedding. In evidence Dr Colin Manock, the State’s Senior Director of forensic pathology, told the jury Keogh had grabbed his fiancée’s legs while she was in the bath and forced them over her head thereby drowning her. He based his theory on three faint bruises to the outside of her left ankle and one on the inside which he claimed made up a “grip” mark. According to the prosecution it was “the one positive indication of murder.” The motive for the crime was said to be $1.2 million dollars in secret insurance policies.
I became fascinated by the case when I learnt that an independent pathologist had discovered there was no evidence to support the so-called “thumb” bruise on the inside of the leg. This had enormous implications. No thumb bruise, no ”grip”, no “grip” no evidence of murder, no murder no crime or motive for a crime. There was also ample evidence to show the insurance was no secret and merely a device to keep Keogh’s insurance agencies alive. It was common practice to create bogus temporary policies in the finance industry.
Of course I couldn’t be one hundred percent sure of Henry Keogh’s innocence. There were only two people in that bathroom, one was dead and the other said he’d returned home to find Anna-Jane submerged in the bath. He could not resuscitate her. Innocent or not there can be no place for flawed or false evidence in our system of justice. At the very least the case required a formal review.
When, as a TV journalist, I took the case on I had no idea of the extraordinary resistance I would encounter from Government, elements of the criminal justice system, the public and even other media. Could someone be so despised that no one cared that they’d been convicted and imprisoned based on evidence that was clearly faulty? It was to take me, in the company of others, 13 years to have his case returned to court and for him to be finally freed in 2015.During that time I chose to make no contact with Henry Keogh so I could not be accused of having some personal stake in the outcome.
I was equally shocked to discover that Dr Manock, who had been the Senior Director of forensic pathology for almost thirty years, had never been professionally qualified to do his specialist job. Those within the system knew this. He was permitted to undertake almost 10,000 autopsies. It emerged that a number of other murder cases in which Dr Manock had given crucial evidence resulted in likely wrongful convictions.
I was also to discover that in the late 1970’s he’d conducted an outdoor autopsy on an indigenous man in front of a gathering of the community in the outback town of Mintabie. It was an appalling thing to do yet no one had officially raised a word of complaint.
In the Keogh case Dr Manock’s deputy, Dr Ross James, had also given expert evidence and though he later admitted having found no support for the “thumb” bruise he had chosen not to disclose this to the jury. Every attempt to have these two Crown experts prosecuted for “unprofessional conduct” was defeated. Though confidential notes from experts deliberating on one Medical Board inquiry revealed they thought Dr Manock had acted “incompetently”, their official finding exonerated him.
The only avenue back to Court at the time was through a Petition for Mercy to Governor which was decided by the Attorney-General on the advice of Chris Kourakis QC the Solicitor-General. It took three years to answer the simple question of whether the case deserved a judicial review. The official conclusion in 2006 was that the Petition “… did not disclose any arguable basis that the Supreme Court could find there had been a miscarriage of justice.”
Pressure from the over sixty stories I had produced and the lobbying of a small band of dedicated and regularly scorned supporters the appeal laws were changed in South Australia to provide for second appeals when this “fresh” and “compelling’ evidence. The Keogh case which had brought this about was the first apply.
What I didn’t know was that Solicitor-General, by now the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, had a report he’d commissioned in 2004 that said the death was almost certainly accidental as the result of a slip and fall or a faint, and there was no forensic evidence to support murder. It was not disclosed for 9 years.
Even so the DPP strenuously defended the conviction during the appeal. By that time Keogh had spent almost 20 years in prison. Finally the full court quashed his conviction based on the flawed forensic evidence but ordered a retrial. Henry Keogh was freed on bail three days before Christmas 2015. I met him for the first time that night.
It took another 10 months before the DPP dropped the charge. Henry Keogh was finally free, but a third of his life was gone.