David Eastman emerged as a suspect in the murder of Colin Winchester early in the investigation.When n Federal Police Assistant Commission Colin Winchester was shot twice in the head outside his Canberra home in January 1989, the instant speculation was it had been a mafia hit.
After all, the mafia did that sort of thing, and not just in the movies.
In July 1977, anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay was shot dead in Griffith.
The subsequent Woodward Royal Commission found he was murdered on the orders of an offshoot of the Calabrian crime group Ndrangheta.
Colin Winchester was involved in investigating organised crime involvement in cannabis plantations outside Canberra.
Yet the comprehensive investigation into his death – of the most senior policeman to be murdered in – found no evidence of mafia involvement.
Very early on, one man emerged as the prime suspect and a most unlikely one at that – former Treasury official David Eastman.
Now 73, Mr Eastman has twice faced trial for the Winchester murder.
In November 1995, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
This week, a second jury found him not guilty after a lengthy retrial.
Mr Eastman resigned from the Treasury in 1977. When he wasn’t immediately snapped up by high-paying financial firms, he set about returning to the public service.
The public service clearly had no desire to have him back as he had proved to be a difficult employee, supremely intelligent but with an abrasive personality and an inability to get on with workmates and many others he encountered in daily life.
Yet he was persistent, engineering his return by steadily overturning a series of administrative decisions.
By the end of the 1980s, his long-sought goal was closer than ever – with one sticking point.
In December 1987, he had been charged with assault over an altercation with a neighbour over a parking spot.
Mr Eastman believed an assault conviction would bar his return to the public service and set about having the charge dropped, lobbying politicians and police and ultimately Mr Winchester in a meeting on December 16, 1988.
He was told the case would proceed.
Prosecutor Murugan Thangaraj SC said Mr Eastman had developed a murderous hatred of police, who he believed were acting corruptly, and that hatred focused on Mr Winchester.
Mr Eastman was first interviewed by police the day after the murder and only because of his meeting with Mr Winchester.
Significantly, he could not account for his whereabouts at the time of the murder.
He said it was his habit to drive around and have a takeaway meal but couldn’t say where he had been the previous night.
Meantime, police embarked on a detailed examination of the crime scene, starting with a pair of spent .22 cartridge cases and identifying the murder weapon as an American-made Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic rifle.
That weapon has never been found but police narrowed it down to a single rifle sold by Queanbeyan man Louis Klarenbeek.
Cartridge cases from when Mr Klarenbeek test-fired the rifle, plus those provided by a previous owner, matched those found at the crime scene.
Mr Klarenbeek, who’s since died, never identified the buyer and said it wasn’t Mr Eastman.
But in 1993, another man came forward to identify Mr Eastman as the man he had seen at Mr Klarenbeek’s home.
There was more. Police bugged Mr Eastman’s apartment home and recorded him muttering supposedly incriminating admissions.
Mr Eastman’s first trial proved far from smooth as he abused the judge and repeatedly fired, hired, then again fired, a succession of lawyers.
The prosecution case was mostly circumstantial, though some evidence – such as gunshot residue in his car boot matching that from ammunition at the crime scene – appeared damning.
Mr Eastman was never going to do his time quietly and mounted a series of appeals and legal challenges, culminating in the Martin inquiry, which in 2014 recommended his conviction be quashed, specifically citing dubious evidence about gunshot residue.
Nineteen years after being jailed, Mr Eastman walked free and there it might have ended.
But it was decided there should be another trial, which started on June 18.
That featured none of the antics of the first trial. Mr Eastman sat quietly throughout.
He didn’t give evidence, but his lawyer George Georgiou SC mounted a solid defence, nibbling away at the prosecution evidence and raising the possibility it was the mafia all along.
Again the prosecution case was wholly circumstantial, with Mr Thangaraj stressing the many pieces of evidence which he said, when taken together, formed a compelling case that Mr Eastman murdered Mr Winchester.
But the jury wasn’t convinced. Almost 30 years after the murder, they found Mr Eastman not guilty.Read more