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Vigilantes get legal fees paid after flawed murder case


Murder charges should never have been brought against two teens who kidnapped a man in a misguided attempt at vigilante justice.

The two offenders, who are now adults but cannot legally be identified, lured Peter Keeley to a remote area in February 2020 and brutally assaulted him before tying him up and leaving him to die.

Both 17 years old at the time, they enticed the Canberra man out by posing as a young adult on Grindr and ambushing him after learning of his apparent interest in boys and girls.

The teens were each charged with murder but were acquitted after a judge-alone trial in June 2022.

They were sentenced after pleading guilty to the lesser charge of detaining Mr Keeley with intent to commit grievous bodily harm.

On Tuesday, the NSW Supreme Court ordered they should be paid the legal costs of defending a murder charge that should not have been prosecuted in the first place.

Justice Michael Walton said the Crown's case that Mr Keeley died from trauma to his face and skull after the assault and an obstructed airway from the packaging tape over his mouth was flawed.

The victim was alive when he was left alone by the kidnappers and died a short time after that.

"There were crucial inconsistencies and flaws within the evidence before the court which meant that the Crown's case theory was proceeding upon a false premise," the judge said.

The court's findings that the tape had been removed from Mr Keeley's mouth at the time of his death doomed the murder charges and made a crucial autopsy report unreliable.

"The flawed autopsy report, which the Crown had in its actual possession well before the trial even commenced, let alone throughout the trial, is enough to demonstrate that it would not have been reasonable to commence the prosecution," Justice Walton said.

The two men were given maximum sentences of five years and eight months and four years and four months, backdated to when they were arrested on February 13, 2020.

One was eligible for parole on January 12 this year while the other will be able to apply for parole on December 12.

A third teenager involved in the kidnapping had the murder charge against him dropped after the other two offenders were acquitted.

He was sentenced to a maximum three years and 10 months with a non-parole period of two years and seven months.

All three were allowed to serve their jail time in juvenile detention.

The maximum jail sentence for aggravated kidnapping is 25 years.