Case study in Forensics – Ashley Coulston
Ashley Mervin Collusion is known as the ‘Burrowed triple murderer’ he murdered three innocent victims in cold blood on 29 July 19921. Collusion had gone to a Burrowed house under the guise of renting a room In the house that had been ‘advertised in the Herald Sun’2.
Collusion had a bag that contained a . 22 rifle, ammunition, a homemade silencer and plastic cable ties. Collusion bound, gagged and covered the victim’s heads (using a towel or dressing gown) and shot each in the back of the head at point blank ranger.
I will briefly outline the circumstances of the ease and how the perpetrator ? Collusion, was eventually captured and the evidence that flowed to convict him for the triple murders in Summit Road, Burrowed. In this case study I will examine the forensic evidence (limited to the main ballistic evidence), that was presented In the criminal trials and the forensic evidence that was Introduced by the prosecution. Background Collusion was caught by police not for the murders in Burrowed but for an armed robbery that occurred several months after the murders in July.
Collusion had approached a couple who were returning to their car parked near the National Gallery In SST Gilda Road. Collusion was wearing a balaclava and carrying a . 22 caliber rifle when he approached the couple In their Carr. The couple believed the assailant was after money; so they threw some money at Collusion hoping that he would leaves. Collusion grabbed the money and forced the couple from the car.
He then forced the female to the ground and tied her hands with the cable ties.
At that moment the male partner of the couple noticed that Collusion had placed the gun on the ground and he took the opportunity to grapple with Collusion, thus allowing the female to run. The male also fled. Tit both calling out for help. Two security officers near the scene heard screams for assistance, and subsequently called for police.
Collusion followed the couple and fired shots at the security officers which hit one of the officer’s in the hip. When police arrested Collusion they found a sawn off rifle, a homemade silencer that was made from a motor vehicle OLL filter, a knife and plastic cable ties.
Forensic evidence The police forensics department found that the bullets recovered from the scene of the Burrowed triple murders had come from the same gun used in the SST Gilda armed FIFO reordered. I en police also Tuna Tanat ten cream came titles uses on ten Tamale volt in the armed hold-up were the same brand as those used in in the Burrowed murders. Forensic evidence also established that blood splatter from a dressing gown found over the head of one of the Burrowed victims was the same blood that had splattered onto the oil filter of the rifle, used as a silencer 10.
Police were also able to use the fingerprint of Collusion found on his Mellows Street directory that marked the page of the Summit Road, Burrowed triple murders 1 . These pieces of evidence were used o place Collusion as the prime suspect in relation to the three murders in Burrowed 2. In relation to the specific ballistic evidence; there was considerable debate over the possible contamination of the evidence by Senior Constable Ray Vincent – police forensic examiner. Mr. Vincent appears to have incorrectly labeled a Job card used to record the test firing of the rifle.
The Court of Appeal was less than impressed with the deference’s proposition that due to the error there was a possibility that the bullets had been substituted to make it look like they had been fired from the . 2 Sterling rifle. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal dismissed the notion of the evidence being tampered within. The prime evidence that was used to convict Collusion was the . 22 Sterling rifle he had in his possession, when he was arrested in relation to armed robbery and attempted murder of the security officers in SST Gilda Road, Melbourne 5.
Specific Forensic Evidence There were several specific pieces of evidence that were found at the Burrowed murder scene:16 1.
There was no sign of forced entry; 2. That the flat was neat and tidy – not disturbed; 3. That the 3 victims had their hands bound with cream colluded tie straps and socks placed in their mouths; and, 4. One of the victims had a dressing gown placed over her head whilst the others had towels. 17 5. A Sterling .
22 rifle was one of a list of weapons that had similar rifling marks to two of the bullets used in the murders – one of the bullets was indistinguishable.
The Sterling rifle that Collusion used in the armed robbery was suspected to have been the weapon used in the Burrowed murderers. The police forensic expert Senior Constable Ray Vincent was able to attach the distinct impressions left on the bullet by the particular firearm, ‘much like a fingerprint’20. The firearm barrel is manufactured by using a type of drill (reamer) to cut the barrel so it has ‘spiral grooves cut into the inner surface of the barrel’21. The spiraling enables the bullet to spin and therefore maintain a more accurate trajectory’s.
When the ballistics expert inspects the bullet, he measures the spaces between the markings on the bullet called grooves and lands, and in particular if they twist either to the right or left. Mr. Vincent was able to count the number of grooves, their width and depth, together with the angle of the twist, and compiled a list of manufacturers Tanat Ana salary rolling marks – one AT tense was a sterling . 22 Scullion’s defense tried to discredit the ballistic evidence given by Mr. Vincent.
By indicating that: 1 .
250 bullets had been test fired from the rifle to make a comparison; 2. The Job card used to record the firings was incorrectly dated – it was dated August 1993 instead of August 1992; and, 3. The bullets used had been substituted at a later stage. In relation to point 1, His Honor Chief Justice Brenan responded by suggesting that the rifling on these bullets fired at a stage before the burring on the front of the barrel might have changed the perspective of them’26.
In essence His Honor was making the comment that the defense may be suggesting that after multiple firings of a weapon the profiling on the bullet may change indicting a possible error being made in the make of the firearm.
In relation to point 2, the defense proposed that the evidence may have been tainted by the fact that ‘something was wrong in the handwritten……
Addition to the comment……
Which was a list of weapons having the same rifling characteristics as the weapon inferentially used in the murders’28.
The defense was trying to put doubt in the Jury’s mind by stating that the list of weapons noted by Vincent, that had the same markings as the murder weapon, was made after Collusion was arrested for the armed robbery in September 1992, noting that Collusion had one of the weapons on the list. In relation to point 3, the defense stated that the rifling, that is the ‘characteristics of the weapon’ … ‘used in the murders, was based on Vincent forensic examination of he bullets’.
The bullets had ‘six lands and grooves with a right hand twist with the lands wider than the groove, “land . 63” and “groove . 048”, Vincent prepared a list of rifles which possessed those characteristics. ‘ ‘The list of rifles with those characteristics would therefore identify the murder weapon’30. The defense utilized the services of an expert witness; Mr.
Barnes (a former Forensic officer later to be discredited) who indicated he was ‘not able to see how you could prepare a list of [weapons] based on those characteristics’ (the land and groove rakings on the bullet) to the list of weapons prepared by Mr. Vincent.
The inference drawn was the bullets used by Mr. Vincent may have been substituted at a later stage. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal both regarded the issue as improbable’ and regarded ‘Mr. Vincent as a credible witness’32.
Blood splatter and gun residue Due to the word limit I will only touch on the issue of the other evidence that was gathered from the crime scene in Burrowed, as it was not as significant as the ballistic evidence. A forensic scientist had determined that the blood stains from the dressing gown attached blood found on the oil filter that was used as a silencer.
Another forensic clients tramline Tanat ten lack AT gun reissue on ten arresting gown was consistent with someone being shot a close arrange. These pieces of evidence led to the police interrogation of Collusion who answered “no comment’. Collusion remained silent in regards to the murder charges throughout the trial and has maintained his innocence to the charges of murdered.
Collusion ultimately appealed his conviction of murder to the High Court who dismissed his appeal on the ground that it had ‘no prospects of success. 36 He is now serving three consecutive life sentences and is never to be released.
Conclusion The attention to detail and the corroboration of the evidence by another Forensic Officer is tantamount to the credibility of the evidence put before the court. Any mistake made by the Forensic officer can Jeopardize the trial and possibly allow a murderer to walk free, as a Jury is required to make a decision on the basis of beyond reasonable doubt. In this case, if there was doubt around the date of the Job card, the list of weapons and the bullets used; this may put enough doubt in a Juries mind to find Collusion not guiltily.