In the 45 minutes it took to start, then adjourn, a pre-trial hearing in the Supreme Court this morning, more was learnt about certain facets of the notorious Claremont serial killing case than has ever emerged before.
And much more potential evidence is expected to be revealed, debated and dissected from Monday, when the three-day directions hearing will now start, revolving around the alleged prior conduct and character of the man accused of these heinous crimes, 50-year-old Bradley Robert Edwards.
It’s more than 23 years since the first serial killing victim vanished in January 1996 – Sarah Spiers, followed by Jane Rimmer and Ciara Glennon’s murders over the next 14 months. But the passage of time has done nothing to diminish the weight this case still holds in the state’s collective consciousness.
To this day, in the minds of many West Australians, that one simple word – Claremont – is much more than the name of a leafy western suburb. It brings back memories of a city and suburb gripped by fear, harking back to days where countless women were too scared to enjoy a night out or catch a taxi alone, and an enduring mystery many wondered or doubted would ever be solved.
But the case against Mr Edwards goes further back than that. Tomorrow marks exactly 31 years since the earliest of the crimes he’s accused of was committed – when prosecutors say he broke into a home in Huntingdale in 1988, as a 19-year-old man, and tried to rape an 18-year-old woman.
Seven years later, in 1995 – less than a year before Ms Spiers disappeared – Mr Edwards allegedly abducted a 17-year-old girl from Claremont and raped her in Karrakatta Cemetery.
Mr Edwards’ nine-month trial, starting in July, is set to be the longest, biggest, most complex, most watched and possibly most expensive trial ever seen in WA. Up until this point, only the briefest of snippets about the evidence Macro taskforce detectives have collected over the years have been revealed.
Thursday was meant to be the start of three days of legal argument about whether “propensity evidence” – acts or material not directly linked to the alleged crimes but which could point to prior conduct or character relevant to the case – should or shouldn’t be included in the trial.
The emotion-charged nature of this case was on full display before proceedings even begun, and before Justice Stephen Hall could even start speaking. Just as Mr Edwards, bespectacled and smartly-dressed, sat down in the dock a middle-aged woman started hurling abuse at the accused man from the upstairs public gallery, calling him a “dog”, “evil”, “Satan” and telling him to “burn in hell” before being promptly removed by security.
Mr Edwards appeared unfazed by the outburst and spent the remainder of the time in court looking straight ahead, with his hands clasped, and only occasionally casting his eyes upwards.
Justice Hall needed some convincing to push the directions hearing back to Monday, but prosecutors were adamant he would need more time to consider a schedule of new evidence relevant to determine the questions of admissibility over a series of contentious issues during this directions hearing, which include a prison call, 20 witness statements, a six-hour police interview with Mr Edwards and a “very graphic” and “extreme” pornographic movie, called Forced Entry.
In arguing why the judge should watch the movie rather than rely on a written description of it, prosecutor Carmel Barbagallo, the state’s deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, said “no words are capable of describing” what is contained in it.
Ms Barbagallo also confirmed the prison call was obtained “relatively recently”.
“What’s depicted, what’s done and how it’s done impacts on some of the matters,” Ms Barbagallo said. “We’re not talking about pornography that is beige or vanilla, we’re talking about pornography that is extreme.” Ms Barbagallo also made fleeting reference to BDSM material that prosecutors want to present at trial.
While Mr Edwards’ defence team argued it wasn’t necessary for the judge to watch the movie, in the end Justice Hall decided he would view it but would disregard anything he considered unnecessary or irrelevant.
Before adjourning, Justice Hall spelled out how next week’s hearing would be rolled out – propensity evidence would be dealt with first before the question of whether the charges relating to the Huntingdale sex attack should be heard separately to the murder and Karrakatta rape charges.
He gave the briefest descriptions to the some of the matters in contention – “Huntingdale prowler” and “women’s clothing” evidence will be discussed in terms of whether they are admissible in regards to the murders and Karrakatta rape counts. Another category, called “Telstra living witness evidence”, will be debated over its admissibility in terms of the Huntingdale matters.
Further, Justice Hall will be asked to rule on whether other matters, described as “Hollywood Hospital evidence” and the pornography evidence relating to “stories, searches and downloads”, should be admissible at all.
As the day’s proceedings were wrapping up, Mr Edwards’ lawyer Paul Yovich confirmed his team would not be seeking a suppression order preventing media from reporting on the pre-trial hearing. But he’s asked for certain witnesses not to be allowed to be in court to listen to the details, with some notable exceptions. He told the court he has no qualms about the Spiers, Rimmer and Glennon families being allowed to sit in next week if they wish to.
Today, Ciara Glennon’s father Denis Glennon sat in the public gallery, as he has done for every one of Mr Edwards’ previous court appearances. But only in rare cases has Mr Edwards actually appeared in court in person like he did today.
While his past court appearances only lasted for mere minutes, next week’s three-day hearing will fill in many more gaps and provide more clues as to why police and prosecutors believe the former Telstra worker and Little Athletics volunteer is the Claremont serial killer.
For more than two years since Mr Edwards’ arrest, the public has waited with baited breath to know more about the case against Mr Edwards, who has pleaded not guilty to all eight charges – three counts of wilful murder, two counts each of deprivation of liberty and aggravated sexual penetration without consent and one count of break and enter.
Mr Edwards has been detained at Hakea Prison since he was arrested and charged in December 2016.
July 22 is scheduled to be the day when all the evidence will begin to be laid out on the table, solely for Justice Hall to decide on Mr Edwards’ guilt or innocence without a jury.
But until then, next week’s directions hearing is set to be the most informative and enlightening precursor to what is shaping up to be WA’s trial of the century.