A woman convicted of murdering her partner nine years ago has launched a last-ditch bid for freedom.
Susan Neill-Fraser is serving a 23-year jail sentence for killing Bob Chappell on the pair’s yacht the Four Winds at Sandy Bay on Australia Day in 2009.
Neither Mr Chappell’s body nor a murder weapon were ever found, meaning Neill-Fraser was convicted by a jury on circumstantial evidence alone.
Earlier this year, a spate of charges were laid against several people accused of perverting the course of justice in relation to Neill-Fraser’s appeal, including influencing a witness.
In an emotionally intense hearing in the Hobart Supreme Court on Monday, Neill-Fraser’s legal team, led by West Australian barrister Tom Percy, cross-examined a homeless woman whose DNA was detected on the Four Winds following Mr Chappell’s disappearance.
During Neill-Fraser’s 2010 trial, the state argued that Meaghan Vass’s DNA could have made its way onto the ketch via secondary transfer, such as on the shoe of one of the investigating police officers.
Ms Vass signed a statutory declaration in April, saying she and others were on the Four Winds on Australia Day, 2009, contradicting what she originally said.
An animated Ms Vass told the packed courtroom she signed the document “out of fear” and that someone had threatened to “put her in the boot of a car” if she did not.
During cross-examination, Ms Vass had to take a five-minute break, storming out of the court in tears.
Brent Thomas Brocklehurst, 46, of Sandy Bay, lived near Marieville Esplanade - close to where Mr Chappell went missing - in 2009.
He said that, on Australia Day, he had seen his neighbour walking up Stanley Street, 300-400 metres from the esplanade, accompanied by two men and a girl.
They then went into Mr Brocklehurst’s neighbour’s home, where “it sounded like they were getting drunk”.
Mr Brocklehurst said one of them was “intimidating”.
Another witness, a retired serviceman, said he was living in his car outside the rowing club at Marieville Esplanade in 2009.
He said he had helped Neill-Fraser and Mr Chappell on a number of occasions when they were “struggling” with their dinghy.
The witness said that roughly three weeks before Australia Day, he had spoken to a man who was living on a boat off Battery Point.
The man was said to have told the witness that Mr Chappell was “a condescending old c***” and that he would “like to rip his teeth out with a pair of gold pliers”.
Director of Public Prosecutions Daryl Coates claimed the witness was lying.
“Were you prepared to lie to help [Neill-Fraser] out?” Mr Coates asked.
“Yes,” the witness said.
Maxwell Kevin Jones, a forensic scientist, spoke on Ms Vass’s DNA, present on the Four Winds.
“If I knew nothing about this case, the simplest answer would indicate some kind of primary transfer,” Mr Jones said, effectively suggesting Ms Vass was physically present on the Four Winds.
Neill-Fraser has already unsuccessfully appealed her conviction in the Court of Criminal Appeal and has attempted to have the matter assessed by the High Court.
Under state legislation enacted in 2015, she was able to launch one last appeal.
The appeal resumes on Tuesday.
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