Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Post#200 How I Defend Lloyd Rayney

The closing arguments have been made in the trial of Lloyd Rayney for the alleged unlawful killing of his wife, Corryn Rayney. Brian Martin, who has heard the matter as judge alone, is now considering his verdict and expects to render it on Thursday, 1 November, 2012.

I've followed the proceedings and now wish to propose a defence for Rayney which I feel is superior to the strategy followed by his defence counsel.

Many matters are attested to in witness statements which were tendered to the court by both prosecution and defence. I'll summarise here the most important evidentiary issues.

First, here's a review of the arguments of the prosecution:

The Crown's Case

Lloyd Rayney, a legal practitioner in Western Australia, is accused of having killed his wife in their home in the Perth suburb of Como on the night of Tuesday, 7th August, 2007. The killing is supposed to have occurred between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. after Mrs Rayney returned from a bootscooting class at Bentley Community Centre. The Crown's contention is that this was a premeditated murder, carried out while their daughter, Sarah Rayney, then aged ten, was sleeping in her bedroom. They propose that Mr Rayney attacked his wife without warning after she entered the house and then took her body to her car which was parked at the front of the house, dragging her so that her boots were damaged by friction with the brick paving in the driveway. The scuffed boots collect particles of soil and paving while being dragged. He may have attempted to place the body in the boot of the car, then decided to put it in the rear of the cabin. Her boots may have come off at this point; they are later discovered in the boot of the car. He also managed to catch several seed pods from a liquid amber tree on the body. He then drove the car to a place nearby and walked back to the house.

He then maintained a pretence of normality until after his other daughter, Caitlyn (then thirteen), was returned home from attending a concert. A friend of Caitlyn who was with her in the friend's mother's car saw Mr Rayney in his pyjamas and noticed that Caitlyn commented that her mother was not home yet.

In the early hours of the following morning, Mr Rayney left the house in which his daughters were asleep and walked to his wife's car, perhaps carrying a shovel from his garden shed. He forgets to check the bedroom in which Mrs Rayney has been sleeping during their period of estrangement and fails to see the black coat which she wore to the dancing class and placed on her bed before he confronted and killed her in another room. He does, however take her purse with him, or he may have done so on the first trip with the car; the purse is found in the boot with the boots.

He drives the car to a place in Kings Park which he had scouted for the purpose, digs a grave and places the body of his wife in it, on top of a Stanley Adams brand handkerchief which he drops from his pocket. After filling the grave and putting leaf litter and a fallen branch over it he takes his shovel to the car, in which he has left the boots and purse and reverses the vehicle over a metal bollard, damaging the transmission and causing a leak of fluid.

He then drives the damaged car to Kershaw Street in Subiaco, leaving a trail of transmission fluid as he goes. After leaving the vehicle he disposes of the shovel, perhaps by dropping it into a bulk bin. He walks back to his home in Como, somehow conceals the dirty grave-digging clothes and returns to bed in his pyjamas. When daylight arrives, he pretends that he believes his wife came home and went out again. To bolster this he puts a coffee cup in the ensuite next to her bedroom to create the appearance of her having been home. He then engages in a role-play of pretending that her absence is news to him.

In the time between this night and the discovery of the grave, a place card from an event attended by Mr Rayney, with his name on it, is found on the ground in Kings Park. The Crown contends that he dropped it while scouting the site the day before the murder.

The Defence by Rayney's Counsel

The defence has attacked the scientific evidence offered to support the contention that Corryn Rayney was killed at her home. They have attempted to discredit the soil and paving samples on the boots and the seeds as not being unique to the Rayney driveway and have suggested that the police planted the seeds (Okay, find another way of saying it) on the body. The Crown's experts agreed that they hadn't conducted extensive comparative tests of the soil and paving and at least two expressed unease over the behaviour of police and the way in which the seeds turned up, two in Mrs Rayney's hair and one in the body-bag used to transport her corpse.

The place card had been explained by Rayney as being in his wife's car because he left it there on the evening of July 28 after the dinner. The Crown presented two witnesses who testified that he had given them a lift in his own car from the event. The defence does not appear to have countered this except to suggest that Rayney's memory is faulty as to when he placed the card in the vehicle.

The defence mamaged to create doubt that the coat on the bed was the one worn by Mrs Rayney to her dancing class if she did wear a coat. There was no unanimity among witnesses from the class.

No definite witness is available to any of the events proposed by the Crown and the method of killing appears to be manual compression of the neck - hence, no weapon to be found.

My Analysis and Alternate Defence

The Crown's case looks good if you accept that the fatal assault occurred in the Rayney home. If the Crown can prove that Corryn Rayney arrived home after the dancing class, that circumstance alone would do it. Likewise, if it can be proven that Lloyd Rayney was outside the home in the early hours of Wednesday morning, he's had it. The place card could be the most damning piece of material evidence but there's a few logical anomalies in presenting it as proof of Rayney's presence at the grave site.

The Place Card

This really seems to be a perfect instance of the cloth being cut to fit. The police wanted to use that card as a piece of significant evidence but they had a problem. The event at which the card was used was one to which LLoyd Rayney went wearing a suit. Consider the difficulty that creates: If he was observed in his pyjamas on the night of the murder and it isn't very likely that he wore them to drive a car up to Kings Park and dig a grave, what was he wearing? Is anyone going to believe that he dressed in a pair of suit pants, with or without a jacket to do such a task? Not likely either. He would have changed into jeans and a tee-shirt or tracksuit or something else appropriate to dirty work. Once that's accepted, it doesn't follow that he would have had the card on his person. This plausible scenario is more consistent with the card being in the car and that permits that a killer other than Rayney ejected it from the car by having it stick to his shoe or being dragged out with the body.

Let's just go back to why the card ever left the room where the event was held. Why did Rayney take it with him? Probably because, like a lot of people, he doesn't like odd bits of paper floating about with his name written on them. After the event he may have looked for a bin to place it in after tearing it up. Not finding one he would have put it in his back pants pocket with the intention of binning it at home.

He drove his own car home, giving a lift to a couple of people on the way. At his home he may have had to move his wife's car and discovered the card poking him in the backside as he sat in the driver's seat. He then may have pulled it out and put it on the console or dashboard meaning to dispose of it once the task of moving the car was complete and then forgotten it. The card subsequently is knocked onto the floor of the vehicle, perhaps into the rear floor area. Or the card may have been in his inside jacket pocket and been discovered as he sat in the car with his wife for some reason, with the same outcome. There are several further possible scenarios but these examples suffice, for the purpose of demonstrating reasonable doubt about the usefulness of the card as probative evidence.

In order to use the card the police needed to get around the problem of that suit and this is how the charge of wilful muder came to be. Proposing various scenarios of their own, the police couldn't see Rayney going to the site of the grave after the event; not with all the heat on. So when could he have dropped that card? The only story that works is that he did it before the murder. That necessitates him being in the vicinity where the grave was dug and the only reason that fits is that he was scouting for a gravesite, hence the killing must have been well and truly premeditated. How he would have been so negligent as to lose that very thing from a pocket and not notice is a challenge to credulity in itself but it's all the police had to work with. Thus the piece of cardboard and the urge to use it to prove Rayney's guilt turned the matter from simple murder or manslaughter into wilful. This actually makes a lot of what is supposed to have happened next very hard to believe.

The Liquid Amber Seed Pods

This could be very damaging evidence: Three seed pods from a liquid amber tree were discovered; two caught in the hair of the deceased and one loose in the body bag in which she was transported to the morgue. The Crown alleges that they were collected by the dragging of the body from the Rayney home, across a paved driveway. The defence has attempted to create suspicion that the police put the seed pods into the victim's hair and in the body bag. The chain of custody of this evidence is somewhat sloppy and the defence have the benefit of a forensic pathologist saying that the pods were discovered during his second examination of the body and that he was puzzled as to how he could have missed them at first. I feel that this is an unnecessarily long bow for the defence to draw. A better approach is to stick to the banal explanation that the pods were simply on the floor in the rear of the car and that the body made contact with them when pushed down on the floor in the rear to conceal it. How could the seeds be in the car? By being carried in by passengers, such as the Rayney daughters; caught on shoelaces, socks, backpacks or bags that had been placed on the ground and then knocked loose onto the floor in the car.

The Purse

It is alleged by the Crown that the deceased's purse was placed in the boot of the car by Mr Rayney as part of a half-baked plan to pretend that his wife had come home and gone out again before being killed, a plan he later abandoned. The  Crown also tendered evidence from Rayney's daughters that their mother did not usually take her purse when going to the dancing class.

I would propose that, whatever her normal practice, Corryn Rayney did take the purse with her that night. A possible reason is the intentiion to buy something from a late-night chemist on the way home. She was 44 and not likely to be menopausal, so it may have been a need to buy supplies for an ongoing or impending period which prompted her to take her purse. This has not been explored, as far I know from the reportage of the case. Other reasons also can be suggested which come to the same outcome: a break from what her daughters perceived as a usual practice.

Why was the purse in the boot of her car? Imagine her arriving at the car-park at the class venue. She doesn't trust the people she's practicing with enough to leave the purse on a chair in the hall nor does she want to leave it on the seat in the car. The first place to conceal it would be the glove box, but if it was like most glove boxes it would be already filled with odds and ends, leaving no space for the purse. The last option is the boot and she takes the purse to the rear of the vehicle and puts it in.

The Handkerchief

This item was tracked back to a department store in Bali. It is a "Stanley Adams" brand man's handkerchief and the Crown contends that Corryn Rayney bought it for her husband as a gift while they were holidaying in Bali a few weeks bfore her death. The transaction records available don't specify what it was she bought, nor does the price paid perfectly match a set of this type of handkerchief. I doubt the proposition that she was in a mood to be buying her husband gifts in light of the degree of estrangement between them. If she did buy that piece of cloth I think it's more likely she bought it for herself, not to blow her nose with but as a wiping-cloth to mop her brow. Women's handkerchieves seem to be flimsy by intent and a perfumed man-sized hanky is more likely to be useful to someone doing something strenuous like dancing. It may have been tucked into her sleeve and dislodged as her body was placed in the grave. The handkerchief may have been the killer's and fallen in the grave as he finished digging it. Lots of Western Australians or their associates have been to Bali and there is no particularity in the possession of such a handkerchief. No one has been able to prove that LLoyd Rayney ever had such a handkerchief. It also could have simply been a piece of debris in the park; lost property which stuck to the body as it was dragged to the grave and nothing to do with the murder.

The Grave

The Crown has tried to draw a sinister implication from the shape of the grave and the posture of the body within it. The grave was shaped like a cup. with a shallow trench as the handle and a rounded pit at one end. The body was placed so that the head was at the base of the pit, the torso tilted upwards and the legs resting in the shallow part. The Crown argues that this was a cunning plan to cause the corpse to rot from the head first and thereby conceal the cause of death if the body was ever found. This seems to me a type example of the practice of making a strength of a weakness. If the Crown's filter is removed, what do we see? Someone starting to dig a standard trench grave and succumbing to impatience stemming from extreme anxiety and deciding to make do with a half-finished effort. The body is placed in the grave head first because that's the part which is closest to the deep part when the killer drags it there. Calm reflection would show that placing the body in an upright foetal position would fit it in more efficiently. And what proof is there that the decomposition would follow the pattern suggested by the Crown? Perhaps the highest part of the body would decay fastest; as far as I heard, no scientific evidence was offered on this point. It seems to be simply an imaginative assertion.

The Coat

The coat which the witnesses disagree about may have been the black coat found on Mrs Rayney's bed on the morning of 8th August. It may simply be that the witnesses who thought they saw it were confusing which particular night at class they saw it. Alternately, it may have been another coat, perhaps dark blue or some other shade that may have been mistaken for black under the lighting in the hall.

The Coffee Cup

The easiest explanation for the cup in the ensuite which the Crown claims was planted by Mr Rayney is that he did put it there - absentmindedly while wandering the house looking for a clue as to what happened to his wife.

An Alternate Scenario

Here's my simple explanation that covers the evidentiary bases without all the complex backs and forths that Lloyd Rayney would have to have completed to do the deed:

Corryn Rayney goes to her bootscooting class wearing no coat or a different coat to the one later found in her bedroom. She takes her purse and places it in the boot of the car for safety. Being inconsistent, as most people are, she fails to lock the car doors. It has been attested that she was in the habit of jogging alone at night and brushed off warnings, so she may have been careless about vehicle security with respect to her own person.

At this point I propose a hypothetical offender who is a stranger to Mrs Rayney. Earlier in the day he has scouted a house in the vicinity which is unoccupied. The usual occupiers are overseas or interstate or the house is vacant and for sale or scheduled to be demolished. He knows that women attend a class at the hall and that they often arrive and leave alone. He observes Corryn Rayney leave her car and enters the vehicle through an unlocked rear door. The security guards who are supposed to check the carpark haven't been around much lately so he hunches down on the rear floor of the car and waits. Mrs Rayney leaves the class and enters the vehicle, either forgetting the purse or meaning to retrive it from the boot when she arrives at the place where she means to use it. The offender waits until she is driving from the carpark to ambush her with a knife or some other means of coercion and forces her to drive to the unoccupied house.  He may climb from the rear to the front and knock the place-card from the console and onto the rear floor.

Alternately, the offender may have been lurking at an intersection controlled by traffic-lights waiting for a lone woman to stop and just stepped out and opened the front passenger door as Mrs Rayney stopped for a red light.

At the house he intends to sexually assault her. By the time they arrive and she has driven the car up the side driveway she has recovered her nerve enough to resist as he tries to undo her pants. The offender ahs put his weapon down in the belief that she will submit and has to put her into a headlock. He receives a nasty shock when she dies of heart failure from the stress. He decides to conceal her body by burying it in Kings Park and takes a shovel from the garden or a shed and places it in the car. He drags the body to the rear of the car, across paving similar to that at the Rayney home (and a great many other places). As he does this the friction draws Corryn Rayney's boots from her feet. The killer picks them up and puts them in the boot of the car. He either fails to notice the purse or doesn't care about it. He then discovers that he can't get the body into the boot and places it on the rear floor of the car. To do this he removes any coat she nay have been wearing, opens the right rear door and climbs in, dragging her by the armpits and clambering backwards across the seat. He pushes open the rear left door and completes the drawing-in of the body. He pushes her down onto the floor of the car face-up, catching the seed pods in her hair. He places the coat over the body to prevent someone driving past in a higher vehicle looking down and seeing it.

He drives to Kings Park, digs the grave, opens the left rear door of the car and drags the body from it by the arms. He pulls the seed pods and the card out with it. He drags the body to the grave and presses it down into the deep part, head-first. At this point he drops his handkerchief or it falls from Corryn Rayney's sleeve where she kept it to mop her brow during the dancing class. He fills in the grave, places a fallen tree branch and leaf litter over it. Now seeing the end of the tunnel, he starts to "choke". He forgets about the boots, which needed to go in the grave with the body. He leaps in the car with the shovel and reverses roughly in his eagerness to get clear. He runs over a bollard and wrecks the transmission. The car starts playing up badly, the automatic transmission not having enough fluid pressure to change gear and the engine over-revving. Any plan to take the car to a decoy location, such as the airport carpark, has to be abandoned. He ditches the car in Kershaw Street and dumps the shovel in a bulk bin, perhaps wrapped in Mrs Rayney's coat.

This is a perfectly plausible scenario, some form of which the defence should have presented in detail.