At his trial, the prosecution presented 14 separate points that they said went to proving Jeff’s guilt. These points make up the circumstantial case against Jeff. None are based on any solid evidence. Most are misleading and some are just plain wrong.
1. Similarity of stab wounds to all three victims. The prosecution argued that Helen, Steven and Christopher were all killed by the same person because of the similarity of the stab wounds.
All three victims were stabbed with the same knife. The wounds received by all three are no more similar to each other than they are to the stab wounds of victims of multiple stabbings in unrelated cases.
2. Time of death evidence. The jury were told that all three deaths occurred 20 minutes prior to the 000 call, giving Jeff time to clean himself, light the fire and allow it to take hold.
Witness accounts of what they heard and saw have varied over the years. The jury was not made aware of all the inconsistencies. We only know the time 000 was called, we do not know the time of death, the time the fire was started, or the time Jeff arrived at his neighbour’s house.
3. Accused had contact with accelerant and lied about the reason for syphoning. Twelve years after the event a fireman, who by his own account was next to Jeff only for “an instant”, claimed he smelt petrol on Jeff. From this, the Crown argued that Jeff had attempted to syphon petrol to hasten the fire, and that he had lied to police about it.
No other witness supported evidence of petrol. This includes police and ambulance officers who examined, interviewed or accompanied Jeff on the night, and the neighbour Jeff ran to for help. Furthermore, in 1993 the neighbour said he specifically smelt Jeff’s breath to see if Jeff had been drinking.
Forensic evidence has shown that mineral turpetine (turps) was the accelerant used in the fire, not petrol.
A comprehensive summary of the petrol-related evidence can be found here.
4. Fire Evidence. The prosecution said that the spread and growth of the fire could not have been as fast as Jeff described, and therefore his description was false. The prosecutor further argued that Jeff should have been able to put out the fire and he should have checked to see if his parents were still alive.
The prosecution’s fire demonstrations left out critical elements, like the effect of clothing. When all elements are considered, the fire is likely to have been bigger and traveled further and faster, as Jeff described.
5. Accused washed himself. The Crown said that Jeff did not have enough blood on him and what he did have on him appeared washed.
Jeff had blood on his body after the incident. Only limited forensic testing was done at the time and no samples were retained for testing under new technologies. The notion of “not enough blood” is a common misconception — expert evidence at trial from police witnesses was that the amount of blood at a violent attack such as this can vary between a lot, a little or a slight amount. Importantly, clothing a victim is wearing can absorb the blood shed.
6. No visible blood on knife. The prosecution argued that there was no blood on the knife and therefore Jeff must have washed the knife clean.
We do not know how much blood was on the knife. The knife was not properly examined by any forensic team. There were indications that the knife may have been moved by police and firefighters who attended the scene. It makes no sense for Jeff to wash the knife, as he admits to using the knife to stab his brother after his brother stabbed his parents.
7. Time of departure. The prosecution claimed that Jeff must have left the house earlier than he said he did, waiting outside for the fire to take hold before going to seek help from his neighbours.
Some of the timing evidence relied upon by prosecutors was based on a clock found burned inside the house. We can show that this clock cannot be relied upon. Jeff was described as being cold to touch when he arrived at the neighbours house. The Prosecutor says this indicates he had waited outside for sometime, however “cold” is a common symptom of shock.
8. Unlikelihood of Christopher as a killer. Since he was not wearing his glasses and was only wearing a shave coat, the prosecutors claimed it was unlikely that Christopher killed his parents. They also asserted that Christopher would have been ready to fight Jeff and certainly would not have left the knife unguarded.
It is accepted that the parents were attacked first. Christopher’s glasses were in his bathroom, an obvious place for him to leave them when showering. It is likely that Christopher showered after stabbing his father and the initial attacks on his mother. His mother managed to get to the intercom and alert Jeff while Christopher was showering downstairs. Christopher heard Helen scream and he returned upstairs and stabbed her in the back. She died at the base of the intercom. Christopher was unaware that Helen had called Jeff, so he was not expecting him.
9. Blood on accused’s foot. The Crown asserted that since the blood found on Jeff’s foot is that of his mother he must have killed her.
Jeff has explained that he walked in and stood next to his mother’s body and that he picked up the knife that had been used to stab his parents. The blood on his foot can be explained simply by his own account at the scene.
10. Premeditation. The Crown said that Jeff premeditated the murder of his parents. He only told his friend and girlfriend that Christopher had been “pushing and shoving” his father to implicate Christopher in the murder of his parents. The Crown asserted that it was unlikely that either of these two would confirm this with Jeff’s parents.
Several other family and friends were aware of problems Christopher was having and had been approached by Helen and Steve for information and support in the weeks leading up to the tragedy. No one has ever reported problems between Jeff and his parents. Jeff’s girlfriend at the time had coffee with Steve and Helen at the house just hours before they were killed. She could have easily confirmed Christopher’s problems with Jeff’s parents then.
11. Panadol paste evidence. The prosecution told the jury that Jeff had prepared a syringe filled with a paste, created from crushed panadol tablets, that was found in a laundry basket in the bathroom used by Christopher. The Crown relied on there being no fingerprints or palm prints on these items and that this was inconsistent with being prepared by Christopher.
There were no fingerprints, palm prints, glove or wipe marks found on any other items tested from the house. This includes miscellaneous items such as snooker balls, a beer bottle and Christopher’s fencing foils. The lack of prints is likely due to poor forensic testing and the effects of the fire suppression efforts.
12. Closing glass door. The sliding door that Jeff left the house from was closed (not locked). The jury was told that this was inconsistent with Jeff leaving in a hurry and that he did it to accelerate or hide the fire.
Jeff closed the door out of habit. Closing the door would not have accelerated the fire. He ran immediately to a neighbour’s house for help. There was nothing about the fire to hide.
13. Dissuading the firemen from entering the burning house. The Crown said that Jeff tried to dissuade a fireman with breathing apparatus from entering the house to put out the fire by saying, “Don’t go down there – someone has a knife” or “someone’s gone mad with a knife”.
A fireman made this statement in 2005. It directly contradicts other statements made by witnesses in 1993. These original witnesses said that this warning came from neighbours, not Jeff. Jeff actually asked the 000 operator to “get the fire brigade” and attempted to take a household fire extinguisher to go and help them.
14. Accused’s clothes and shoes. The Crown asserted that since Jeff’s jumper and shirt were found entangled together on the lounge room floor along with his joggers, he had removed these quickly and that means he did not go to the boathouse that evening.
Jeff was 23 years old. It was not uncommon for him to leave his clothes lying around the house.
This is another example of the Crown twisting an ordinary circumstance to fit a more elaborate and sinister story.
Most of Jeff’s clothes were kept in his bedroom in the main house, because he could not be bothered carting them up and down from the boatshed. If they were upstairs his mum would be more likely to do his washing. He may have been untidy, but this doesn’t make him a murderer.