week 4 learning – MORETON ISLAND SEX KILLER ARRESTED
You are the Online News Editor of a Queensland news bulletin called QNEWS with 23,000 subscribers throughout Australia and a further 724 internationally. The following item has been filed for your consideration, along with some social media comments you are expected to moderate. You are the only one in the office and the company’s budget does not extend to legal advice. Review the material and explain the extent to which defamation and contempt of court arise as issues and detail how you would amend the article and comments to minimise the legal risks involved.
Police have arrested the man who murdered and raped an elderly woman on Moreton Island last month. Edith Johnston was found dead in her Moreton Island home on February 22. Labourer David Smith is expected to be charged later today. Detectives visited his Cleveland home on Monday morning and later escorted him into Roma Street headquarters.
During the investigation, Mr Smith had described himself as a friend of Mrs Johnston who would do odd jobs for her on his weekend fishing visits to the island. Mr Smith was also the man who raised the original alarm to police, concerned the 93-year-old woman was not answering her door when he had knocked. Police found Mrs Johnston naked in her bathroom when they attended to check on her. She had lived alone in the single story fibro bungalow since her husband Fred died in 2010. Neighbour and friend Liz Wallis said she was in disbelief that a potential serious crime had been committed on a usually peaceful island. She told QNEWS: “This is not Moreton Island, believe me – things like this don’t happen here. We just can’t understand it. We’re devastated.”
Police questioned Smith for more than three hours last Wednesday after forensic experts determined the woman had been the victim of a sex murder. A police media spokesperson said Smith had made several admissions to them during that interview and said he had been drinking heavily for several hours prior to the attack. His home computer had been seized and incriminating pornographic images had been found on it.
Smith was a prime suspect in a similar attack on a Redland Bay woman, Doris Dupain, 78, in 2008. According to investigating detectives, Mrs Dupain survived the assault and was willing to testify, however Smith’s ex-girlfriend provided him with an alibi and crucial DNA evidence was misplaced in the police laboratory. The police spokesperson said there would be no such error this time round. “We have collected incriminating DNA from both the victim and the suspect and this kind of data doesn’t lie. We expect to formally charge Smith within hours,” she said.
Mrs Johnston was a retired school music teacher who often played piano at community gatherings and on Sundays at the Moreton Uniting Church services. “She was such an endearing person and very talented,” Ms Wallis said. “She didn’t deserve to die in such a horrible traumatic way. “I have no doubt this Smith guy did it. He would hang around her place like a bad smell and always had a nasty look about him. My guess is that he preyed on lonely widows like this.” A Google search reveals a David Smith from Cleveland was convicted of several drug offences in 2005 and aggravated assault against a 74 year old woman in 2003.
The arrest follows Premier Campbell Newman’s emotional address to Parliament last week when he vowed to “committing every possible resource to finding the monster who has done this”.