Stacey Thorne was 22 weeks pregnant with Austic’s child when she was killed. (AAP: WA Police)
A cigarette packet and a knife may decide if a killer who stabbed his pregnant girlfriend goes free
WA Police officers have for the first time publicly denied planting evidence used to convict a man of murdering his pregnant girlfriend 12 years ago.
- Scott Austic is accused of stabbing his pregnant girlfriend to death
- Key police evidence used to convict him was missing from crime scene photos
- Officers denied planting evidence, but were unable to explain the discrepancies
The officers today testified in a new appeal by Scott Austic, who is fighting to clear his name of the murder charge before the state’s highest court.
Austic is serving a life jail term for the murder of 35-year-old Stacey Thorne in December 2007.
Ms Thorne was 22 weeks pregnant with Austic’s child when she was stabbed 21 times at her home in Boddington, south-east of Perth.
It was alleged Austic murdered her because he did not want her to have the baby.
Austic was found guilty by a jury in 2009, but his case was referred back to the Court of Appeal after concerns were raised about some of the evidence in the case.
That included a photograph showing a bloodstained cigarette packet on a table at Austic’s home.
The cigarette packet was not present in a video and photographs taken a day earlier, prompting suggestions from Austic’s lawyer it may have been planted.
Later search ‘more intrusive’: Officer
Today the officer who found the packet, Detective Sergeant Clinton Bragg, testified he located the evidence during a search of Austic’s home four days after Ms Thorne’s death.
When he was asked by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Amanda Forrester SC, if he was responsible for introducing it to the crime scene, he replied: “No.”
Detective Sergeant Bragg said the later search of the home had been “more intrusive” than the one carried out previously by forensic officers, but he could not explain why the packet was not on the earlier video.
“I’m unsure what’s happened between the recording of that video, or whether it’s not visible to the person taking the video,” he told the court.
Detective Sergeant Bragg could not explain why the cigarette packet was not in earlier photos. (ABC News: Joanna Menagh)
Later under questioning from Austic’s lawyer, David Grace QC, Detective Sergeant Bragg was asked directly if he had planted the evidence, but he denied the allegation “unreservedly”.
He also denied the possibility that he knew someone else had planted the packet, telling the court: “That’s a theory, and that’s not correct.”
Knife raises further questions
Detective Sergeant Bragg was also asked about the discovery of what was alleged to be the knife used to stab Ms Thorne.
It was found by the officer in charge of the investigation in a paddock near Ms Thorne’s home the day after a search of the same area by State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers, who testified earlier it was very unlikely they would not have found it.
A forensic pathologist previously testified it was unlikely a knife found at the scene could have caused Stacey Thorne’s fatal injuries. (Supplied: Court of Appeal)
Detective Sergeant Bragg, who was also present when the knife was found, said there was nothing about its discovery that caused him any concern.
Earlier, a third officer who was present during the discovery, Brendan O’Keefe, said the three of them had decided to go to the paddock to “familiarise themselves with the scene” and map a route that Austic may have taken to go back to his home.
He said it was a common thing for detectives to return to areas that have already been searched, testifying that each person saw things differently from others.
He also said the SES volunteers were “not trained investigators” and were also “not trained observers”.
‘It’s just heartbreaking’: Thorne family members
Members of Ms Thorne’s family also spoke publicly today, saying the appeal process had brought back many memories and was very painful.
Ms Thorne’s sister, Hayley, said they just wanted the process over and done with.
“We just want Stacey to rest in peace. This is the third time it’s come up and hopefully this will be the end,” she said.
“It’s heartbreaking sitting in the court and listening to everything. It’s just heartbreaking.”
Stacey Thorne’s sisters Hayley and Julie Thorne said they just wanted the process over and done with. (ABC News: Joanna Menagh)
Another sister, Brenda Thorne, said Stacey would remain in their hearts forever.
She described her as a beautiful young lady who was smiling all the time.
“We were always there for one another and I regret I wasn’t there that night,” she said.
The three appeal court judges are expected to reserve their decision at the end of the hearing.