The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal ordered Gordon Wood's release from prison for the murder of Caroline Byrne. Wood's legal team put forward nine grounds for appeal and the court upheld eight of them. He was accused of "spear throwing" Caroline off The Gap, a well-known suicide spot. He had served three years and three months when he walked through the gates of the Goulburn prison a free man.
But Caroline's father, Tony Byrne still thinks he's guilty and so do a lot of people who followed the case. Police were furious with the decision to release wood and said the ruling was "inaccurate, incorrect and flawed."
Last Sunday night 60 Minutes paid Gordon Wood for an interview. They promised it would "change our minds" about his guilt. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he described the emotional moment when an attendant at the morgue allowed him to hold Caroline's hand. But at Wood's committal hearing, Kenneth Nichols recalled a man he believed to be Mr Wood arriving at the morgue on the day Ms Byrne's body was admitted and asked to view his girlfriend. He told police that Wood said "Do you mind if I look at her tits?" Mr Nichols said he had worked in the funeral industry for fifteen years and had never had such a strange request before.
There were other things Wood said in the interview that differed from his previous evidence. He said it was "nonsense" to say that he was led by Caroline's spirit to The Gap to find her body. "The only evidence of that comes from Tony Byrne." Not true. In a police interview on 14 June 1996, when asked how he found Ms Byrne's car at The Gap, "he just had a feeling" and then "I believe in spirituality and all that and think the kind of connection Carol and I had was very strong - there was some kind of spiritual communication.....that was occurring subliminally to go there."
Woods also said in the interview that it was a nonsense to say that he had looked over the top of the gap and saw Caroline's legs on the rocks below. Not true. Recorded in the Court of Criminal Appeal judgment, Woods told a number of people he could see her legs from the top of the cliff on the night of her death. Those people included Caroline's brother Peter, Rose Bay police and Police Rescue Squad officers at the scene. One friend of the couple said "He told us he saw her ankle from the spot where he was, that he could see her shoe, her ankle skin and some portion of the lower leg.
Caroline Byrne's father is a stubborn man. He is 76 years old and a retired fireman. He doesn't accept the acquittal and wants to take the case to the high court. The DPP has ruled that there will be no appeal but Mr Byrne is prepared to spend his superannuation on legal fees to pursue it further. "I have the strength and power to do this as long as I have support, and I have plenty of support" he said.
His Barrister Peter Lange said he had warned Mr Byrne that it had never been done before and he could lose, but believes there is a solid argument.
The three judges of the Court of Criminal Appeal were unanimous in their acquittal of Gordon Wood, they said his conviction was flawed and unsafe. Because there was evidence that Caroline was depressed and could have taken her own life, the case could not be supported beyond a reasonable doubt. They strongly criticized Mark Tedeschi's handling of the case, implying that he had not presented the evidence honestly.
Mr Tedeschi has been successful in many high profile cases and secured a guilty verdict of Ivan Milat, Keli Lane, and Bruce Burrell. In his appeal judgment, Justice McClelland slammed the suggestion that Ms Byrne's death had been linked to Wood's dealings with Rene Rivkin with the crown going as far as suggesting that the former chauffer had been in a homosexual relationship with the stockbroker. "The exploitation of public rumour and the use of mere innuendo to compensate for inadequate evidence of motive is not consistent with the obligations of a prosecutor" he said.
So, according to the legal profession, justice has been served. But as far as Tony Byrne and his supporters are concerned, it's not over yet.