R v Wood – 2 – the Golden Thread

In today’s SMH, touted as an “exclusive,” is an interview with a juror.

In it we learn that:

BEFORE the jurors went in to deliver their verdict on the fate of Gordon Wood, the import of what they were about to do weighed heavily on them, three were crying and the foreman had tears in his eyes.


Angry at the way the jury’s verdict has been disparaged by Wood’s family and supporters, the juror contacted the Herald to say that the jury had taken their oath very seriously and that they had gone into the trial thinking that Wood was an innocent man.

Wood’s family’s suggestion that the jury had been influenced by previous media reports over the years was not right, the juror said. “Half the members of the jury were still at school when this happened,” the person said.

I can understand why the juror feels affronted by criticisms of the verdict, but I’m not sure that speaking out in this way makes things any better. And of course the press coverage has not only been at the time of Caroline Byrne’s death.

Wood was not only guilty of the murder of Caroline Byrne, but half the jury thought that the murder was premeditated, a juror has told the Herald.

What’s the betting that this juror was one of that half? But it is the following statement which intrigues me:

The juror said that at the end of the case there was no suggestion by any juror that Wood was innocent and should be acquitted.

You have to allow for the reporting process, but if this is what the juror actually said to Ms McClymont, then that’s at least one juror who doesn’t quite seem to have understood reasonable doubt. A juror doesn’t have to believe that the accused is innocent to vote to acquit, but rather that there is a reasonable doubt that the accused might be not be guilty. It’s because of this that, when I read the report of Justice Barr’s summing up, I felt some disquiet about this part, as reported, also in the Herald, and also by their very experienced reporter, Kate McClymont:

Justice Barr said it would be understandable for the jury to feel sympathetic towards Tony Byrne and his children, especially given the “tragic life” of Mr Byrne’s wife, who committed suicide in 1991.

He also said that the jury might feel sympathetic towards Wood as he had had this matter weigh over him for so many years. However, the jury owed it to both parties and to the public to “judge dispassionately”.

Maybe I’m soft-hearted, but to me that understates a juror’s duty to consider reasonable doubt, even if that leads to a hung jury and no verdict at all.

8 Responses to “R v Wood – 2 – the Golden Thread”

  1. Concerned Says:

    It is all too easy for people to make comment on this trial particularly those who did not attend the trial every single day to consider the entire evidence presented in the matter. They got to see it in every detail, even the demeanor of the witnesses, the crown and the defence. Gordon Wood did not allow himself to be cross examined to test the veracity of his statements .I now have utmost faith in the jury system in this country.

    What an ordeal they must have been through scan ning through every piece of evidence and to be compelled to arrive at a verdict. Great work a job I dont envy.

  2. marcellous Says:

    Your first paragraph is a point I acknowledge in the sixth paragraph of my previous post on this subject.

    Your second paragraph doesn’t seem quite right for precisely the reason that I’ve mentioned. A jury, unlike a judge sitting alone, is not compelled to arrive at a verdict.

  3. Nick Says:

    Hi Mr. Marcellous, Someone told me about your blog, and I have been reading it with great interest now for some weeks. It is been an enjoyable way for me of staying in touch with the Australian musical scene. Just thought I would write and let you know how much I enjoy reading your writings on the musical scene. Fascinating insights for me. All the best, Nicholas Milton (writing from Jena, Germany)

  4. O Says:

    Thank god for the Golden Thread. Can you imagine the system without it? One entirely subject to the half-baked thinking of the kind of person who calls themselves ‘Concerned’?

    Incidentally, I didn’t think the demeanour of the Crown was a factor going to the guilt or otherwise of a defendant, but obviously I’m out of the criminal justice loop.

  5. marcellous Says:

    @ Nick:

    Thanks for your comment and flattering to hear I’m being read from so far away, and from one of my favourite parts of Germany at that. I have some dear friends who live at Renthendorf, known to Germans as the home of the Brehms, clergy-naturalists and authors of Brehms Thierleben. As you may know, Renthendorf is between Jena and Gera just over the hill from the Hermsdorfer Kreuz (in the south west quadrant). From Jena you drive via Stadtroda towards Triptis. I’ve spent some good times exploring that neck of the woods (literally, this is the Thuringer Wald), including, of course, Jena. In fact, my friends sent me a clipping about your appointment to Jena, assuming that it would be of interest to me as a fellow-Australian, which of course it was.

    My only regret is that I may have little of interest to you to post in the next few weeks since serious musical life for me has shut up shop for the Christmas break – only a performance of Priscilla to go this year. Well, not my only regret. If I’d known you’d become a reader, maybe I’d have made the extra effort to get to the Mozart rounds of SIPCA. Forgive me! It was a busy time.

    @ O:

    I think you are a bit tough on “Concerned,” even if that’s mainly a question of tone. Whether the demeanour of the crown witnesses (which is how I interpreted the phrase “the crown and the defence”) is relevant depends on whether the truth of anything they said was relevant. So to some extent demeanour may have been relevant, in particular in relation to the reliability or not of the witnesses who gave (conflicting, as I understand) accounts of whom they saw with Caroline Byrne at Watsons Bay on the night she died. And there’s nothing wrong with being concerned. I’m concerned too. My concern is that what the juror is reported as telling McClymont suggests that the golden thread got a bit frayed. I’ve commented previously on how well that thread stands up when the accused doesn’t give evidence.

    PS: I like your capitals for GT and lower case for god.

  6. Legal Eagle Says:

    A friend was recently on a jury, and told me that the other jurors did not really understand “beyond reasonable doubt”. Some of the other jurors wanted to convict because they thought that the accused looked like he might have done the crime. My friend forcefully told the jury that if there was any doubt about whether the accused had done it, he should be acquitted. One could strongly suspect that the accused had done it, but that was not “beyond reasonable doubt”, and could not result in a conviction.

    So yes, I agree – the golden thread does get frayed from time to time.

  7. Tabitha Says:

    Gordon Wood should have been acquitted on the basis of reasonable doubt. There was no credible evidence placing him at the scene and much credible evidence suggesting that Caroline was depressed and tragically took her own life, just as her mother did. The judge directed the jury stringently in the concept of “beyond reasonable doubt” but there was no way he was ever going to receive a fair verdict after 13 years of malicious media coverage. Let’s not forget the first jury was dismissed when one of them called 2GB to complain that a fellow juror was bullying the others before they’d even heard any evidence. Who’s to say that this was exactly the case with this or any jury (given the trial by media) but that noone had the nerve to contact 2GB? This has been a grave miscarriage of justice as, again, under our system of law, Wood was entitled to be acquitted on the basis of reasonable doubt.

  8. Stella Says:

    Justice Barr directed the jury in his summing up that the jury MUST acquit Gordon Wood if they could not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Caroline Byrne did not commit suicide. No doubt the double negatives made the jury’s eyes glaze over!

    On the day of Caroline Byrne’s death she had an appointment with a psychiatrist which she did not keep. Two days before her death she saw her GP and told her she was “severely depressed” and had been feeling so for a month. She did not go to the doctor to complain about a grazed ankle. She went to the doctor because she was suffering from depression.

    In 1992 Caroline Byrne attempted suicide. Caroline Byrne’s mother committed suicide the year before that.

    On that evidence how could you be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that she did not commit sucide?

    Despite the above lets say you are satisfied to the requisite degree that she did not commit suicide. How about the police investigation? After 8 years the police suddenly realize that they have located the body in the wrong spot. This realization happens to coincide with the receipt by them of a report from their “expert” Professor Cross stating that the location of the body at the first location (“hole B”) is consistent with suicide. When Cross is advised of the police “mistake” (and guess what? the new remembered location is – you guessed it – further out) he is able to provide another report (one of 7) stating that he now considers the new location to be consistent with her being thrown. We now have the whole theory of Caroline Byrne being hoisted by Gordon Wood over his head and spear thrown off the edge of a cliff. Whether she was struggling and fighting for her life or unconscious is never addressed by the Crown in the trial. As Justice Barr said in his remarks on sentence “between 1996 and 2004 the police had no firm idea of what their case was”.

    That this man is now in gaol convicted of a crime that the Crown could not prove even happened is a total travesty and an indictment of the jury sytem in matters where saturation media coverage of a sensationalist and venal nature occurs long before trial. The golden thread of which you speak is an anachronism no longer applied in the days of trial by media.

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