April 1, 2005
After 45 years, deaf mute cleared of axe murder
From: Sydney Morning Herald, Australia - Apr 1, 2005
A deaf mute Perth man found guilty of the axe murder more than four decades ago created Australian legal history today when his conviction was overturned on appeal at the sixth attempt.
Darryl Beamish, now 63, was just 18 when socialite and chocolate heiress Jillian Brewer, 22, was slain in her Cottesloe flat by an intruder, who brutalised her naked body with a tomahawk and a pair of dressmaking scissors.
Two years later Mr Beamish was convicted by a jury and sentenced to death after the West Australian Supreme Court heard apparently compelling evidence of his confessions, which contained details of Ms Brewer's killing.
He spent 15 years in jail after his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
In the same Perth courthouse today, Justices Christopher Steytler, Christine Wheeler and Carmel McLure ruled Beamish had not committed the murder, saying they now believed a 1964 gallows confession from one of Australia's most notorious serial killer, Eric Edgar Cooke.
The appeal decision creates the longest gap between a conviction and an appeal victory anywhere in Australia. AdvertisementAdvertisement
In a written statement delivered after the decision, Mr Beamish said he did not want financial compensation for his ordeal, merely to see truth and justice prevail.
"All I ever wanted was truth and justice. I have just wanted everyone to know for sure that I did not kill anyone. Now they know," Mr Beamish said.
"The appeal court judges say that they believe me - I always told the truth. The deaf have many problems being understood by people who can hear. There are always mix-ups.
"I did not understand what was happening at the police station, or at my trial in court."
After thanking his family, friends and legal team, Mr Beamish also praised the bravery of Cooke's widow Sally and her children.
"Bravest of all have been Eric Cooke's family, most of all his widow Sally and his eldest son Tony," Mr Beamish said.
In five previous appeals, Cooke's account of how he killed Ms Brewer was discounted by the court as the work of a "palpable and unscrupulous liar".
Today's decision reversed that thinking.
"It seems to us that Cooke had no good reason for lying in the course of making the gallows confession," the judgment said.
The case was the second to have been initiated on the back of evidence unearthed by Walkley Award-winning journalist Estelle Blackburn, who spent her life savings researching the story of Mr Beamish and John Button, who was convicted of the 1963 killing of his girlfriend Rosemary Anderson.
Mr Button won his appeal in 2002, and after attending court for today's decision, said he was delighted.
"It is a great day for both of us. I know Darryl would have ached in his heart for years and years, and wondered, 'Is this ever going to happen, is it ever possible to have it overturned'," Mr Button said.
Cooke's eldest son Tony, who was also in court to hear the decision, spoke of his satisfaction at the end of the saga.
"The gap between the law and justice has finally been closed," Mr Cooke said.
Mr Beamish was originally sentenced to death by hanging but that was commuted to life in prison. He served 15 years behind bars before his release in 1977.
Copyright Â© 2005. The Sydney Morning Herald.