Gerard Baden-Clay: Why the circumstantial case proved so powerful
By Emily Clark
Posted Sun 20 Jul 2014, 5:44am AEST

Allison Baden-Clay and Gerard Baden-Clay
PHOTO: A Brisbane jury found 43-year-old Baden-Clay guilty of murdering his wife Allison in 2012. (Supplied)
RELATED STORY: Baden-Clay launches appeal against murder convictionRELATED STORY: Baden-Clay jailed for life for murdering wife Allison
MAP: Brisbane 4000
No direct evidence was presented to the jury that convicted Gerard Baden-Clay of murdering his wife but the prosecution’s circumstantial case still proved very strong.

Last week a Supreme Court jury found the 43-year-old Brisbane man guilty of killing Allison in April 2012.

Justice John Byrne sentenced him to life in prison, with a non-parole period of 15 years.

Lawyers for Baden-Clay have filed an appeal against his murder conviction, claiming the verdict was unreasonable.

However, a leading Brisbane criminal lawyer insists a circumstantial case is often more powerful than one with direct evidence such as witness testimony that is vulnerable to cross-examination.

Lawler Magill criminal lawyer Adam Magill says in the case of The Crown v Gerard Baden-Clay the prosecution used the circumstantial evidence to build a scenario where the only reasonable outcome was that Baden-Clay was guilty.

“You’ve got a number of different factors that, by themselves, may mean very little,” he said.

“But in a scenario where a jury is trying to understand what happened between points A and B and a dozen different circumstantial facts indicate that a single person is involved, the case becomes very strong.”

Timeline: Baden-Clay murder

Take a look back at how Allison Baden-Clay’s disappearance and the resulting murder trial unfolded.
Mr Magill says the prosecution limited the ability of the defence to raise the profile of alternative outcomes to the jury.

“The circumstances of him knowing the victim, he was the last person to see her, they had relationship problems – this is where the circumstances start to build momentum,” he said.

“Then there’s the evidence of the scratches on his face, the leaves in her hair, his lie to the police and suddenly the case is very strong.”

These pieces of circumstantial evidence are gathered by investigating police officers, are well-documented and are typically hard to dispute in court.

“No one can dispute the scratches, they happened. And no one can debate the leaves – those pieces of circumstantial evidence are a matter of fact,” Mr Magill said.

‘No smoking gun’

When asked why circumstantial cases are often considered weaker than those with direct evidence Mr Magill replied: “There’s nothing direct – no smoking gun”.

“In a shooting the prosecution might have the gun or have found the gun on someone but in this case there’s no real scientific evidence that says Mr Baden-Clay did it,” he said.

“Reaching a guilty verdict is easier if there is direct evidence but that can often depend on the credibility of a witness and a witness is only as good as their credibility.

Trial almost fell over

Gerard Baden-Clay’s trial almost fell over 10 days in when the defence made an application for a no case to answer on the murder charge.
“The defence will want to discredit a direct witness and if they do so they can be seen as unreliable and can affect the entire case.”

The circumstantial evidence is factual and the ability of the prosecution to construct a scenario where all those facts incriminate one suspect makes a case like this difficult to defend.

“People in the jury are lay people and there’s an element of commonsense that is used,” Mr Magill said.

“When circumstantial facts get put into play and the prosecution starts narrowing the likelihood of other possible outcomes they start limiting the hypotheses of the defence.

“The question often is ‘what else could have possibly happened?’, and that’s what the jury has to debate.

“And in this case they said with all the facts put before us, looking at all the evidence, the only possible outcome is guilty.”