An utterly compelling court hearing will start in Hobart this morning: the final appeal of Sue Neill-Fraser, who was convicted of murdering her husband Bob Chappell onboard the couple’s yacht in 2009.
There’s a lot to unpack but basically Neill-Fraser was convicted entirely on circumstantial evidence, Chappell’s body has never been found, and much of the appeal is set to focus on why DNA from a troubled teenager was on the yacht.
It is also a test of right to appeal laws, which have been implemented in some states to allow for court hearings if new evidence emerges.
Here’s a story from AAP:
More than a decade after being convicted of murdering her partner, Hobart grandmother Susan Neill-Fraser has another chance to prove her innocence.
The body of Bob Chappell, who disappeared off the couple’s yacht on Australia Day 2009, has never been found.
Neill-Fraser, now 67, is serving 23 years in jail but has always maintained she did not kill the 65-year-old, her partner of 18 years.
Today she will embark on a landmark appeal hearing in the supreme court of Tasmania having convinced a judge there “fresh and compelling” evidence that was not heard at the original trial.
The reliability of the evidence – which centres on then 15-year-old homeless girl Meaghan Vass whose DNA was found on the Four Winds yacht – will be tested in front of a three-judge panel.
Vass denied being on the boat at the original trial but has signed an affidavit saying she was on board when Chappell was attacked.
Neill-Fraser’s lawyers have also questioned evidence led by the prosecution at the trial relating to DNA and blood testing and a “misleading” winching reconstruction on the yacht.
It was found Neill-Fraser attacked Chappell, dumped his body in the Derwent river and then tried to sink the boat.
“It was a deliberate killing for the purpose of some sort of personal gain,” Justice Alan Blow wrote in sentencing remarks after her 2010 conviction.
The case against Neill-Fraser was based entirely on circumstantial evidence.
If the appeal is successful she could face a retrial or her conviction could be quashed.
High-profile lawyer Robert Richter QC, who represented Cardinal George Pell, will lead Neill-Fraser’s legal team at the five-day hearing.
Vass is expected to give evidence via video link.
Neill-Fraser, who is eligible for parole in August 2022, won the right to a second appeal in 2019 under new Tasmanian laws that required “fresh and compelling” evidence to be brought forward.
Her first appeal was dismissed by the court of criminal appeal in 2012.