A MAN convicted of murdering a flatmate and disposing of his body in the
household garbage has had his murder conviction overturned because a court
found he might not have intended to kill the victim.
The Court of Appeal in a majority decision which it is claimed
contradicts High Court precedent, ruled that Lawrence Butler, 32, should
face a retrial for the manslaughter of Trevor Tascas, but not a murder
Appeal judge Justice David Ashley said although it was open for the jury
to conclude that Butler killed Mr Tascas and disposed of his body, it
was a possibility he did not have "murderous intent".
Butler cut up Mr Tascas's body in the bathroom of a house in
Whittington, a suburb in Geelong, in October 2005, burned it in a
backyard incinerator and then disposed of the remains with the garbage.
No trace of him has ever been found.
Justice Ashley said the jury heard Butler told a series of lies about
the killing, gave no alternative explanation, disposed of the body in
horrendous circumstances and asked others to cover up his actions.
Justice Ashley said the jury was entitled to believe the chief Crown
witness, Jodi Harris, who said Butler asked her to help him dispose of a
hessian bag that she believed contained Mr Tascas's body.
Ms Harris said Butler, who told police he did not know what happened to
the victim, said if she believed the bag contained Mr Tascas “you can
"I do not doubt that it was open to the jury to conclude that the
applicant had killed Mr Tascas,'' Justice Ashley said.
"The evidence permitted a conclusion to the criminal standard not only
that Tascas was dead, but also that the applicant knew he was dead. But
it did not cast light on how Mr Tascas had met his death."
Justice Ashley, who was supported by Justice Ian Ross, ordered that
Butler's conviction should be quashed as a miscarriage of justice and he
should have a retrial on a manslaughter charge.
Appeal Court president Justice Chris Maxwell dissented with the decision
and said Butler's own defence counsel had never suggested his client
might have accidentally killed the victim.
"This was a case which called for explanation or contradiction in the
form of evidence from the accused," Justice Maxwell said.
Justice Maxwell said the majority appeal court decision went against
High Court precedent confirmed on a number of occasions.
"The failure of an accused to give evidence in a circumstantial case
such as this means that hypotheses consistent with innocence may cease
to be rational or reasonable in the absence of evidence to support them
when that evidence, if it exists at all, must be within the knowledge of
the accused," Justice Maxwell said.