Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ivan Milat: The Last Ride

The Trial

Ivan Milat sat passively in the courtroom as the jury filed in for the first day of the biggest murder trial in Australias criminal history. The presiding judge, Justice David Hunt, asked the crown prosecutor to begin. Mark Tedeschi QC (Queens Counsel) made a brief opening statement during which he told the jury that Ivan Milat would be proven guilty of seven cruel murders, whether he had accomplices or not.  He wasted no time in calling his first witness, Paul Onions.

Milat stared at him as he took the witness stand, the hint of a faint smile on his lips. Onions positively identified Milat as the person who attacked him. Tedeschi led him through his evidence and Onions waited for Milats defense counsel, Terry Martin, to attack his testimony during cross-examination. The attack did not come. A few points of identification were challenged, but not the scrutiny that he was expecting.

After Onions stepped down, the parents of each of the victims were called to the stand one at a time. The courtroom was hushed as they spoke about the last time they seen their children alive. Some suppressed sobs and others struggled to control the seething anger that they felt when they looked into the eyes of the "monster" that stood accused of murdering their children.

The list continued as the evidence was presented: 356 exhibits and hundreds of photographs all had to be explained in detail. The days crawled by in the hot and stuffy courtroom as each witness was called. The public galleries were full every day. Members of the media from all over the world jostled for position in the crowded press gallery, knowing that the case was big news.

When the T-shirt that Joanne Walters last wore was displayed, bearing numerous cuts, front and back, the courtroom fell silent. So too when Dr Bradhurst took the stand to describe the injuries inflicted on each of the victims. The most dramatic moment was when he was shown the sword found at Ivans house. He suggested that it was very likely the type of weapon used to decapitate Anja Habschied.

The enormous weight of evidence and the long list of witnesses took weeks to present. Gradually, during cross-examination of the prosecution witnesses, the defense tactics unfolded. They were determined to convince the jury that Ivan was not responsible for the murders but instead implied that his brothers, Richard and Walter, committed the crimes and implicated him by "planting" the evidence at his house. Twelve weeks and 145 witnesses later, the prosecution completed its presentation of a strong case.

The first witness called by the defense was Ivan Milat. Martin led him through the accusations that had been made. His defense was simple: he denied everything. During cross-examination, Tedeschi proved merciless.

He pursued Milat on every point. When asked how he came to be in possession of the property belonging to the victims he answered, "Someones trying to make me look bad."

He faltered after Tedeschi reminded him that the gun parts that he said were put in his home by someone else, were painted in camouflage colors in the same fashion as his other hunting equipment. Tedeschi pointed out that it was an amazing coincidence, considering that Milat had already admitted that the paints used were in fact his. On the sixty-fourth day of informed and the juror excused from further proceedings.

In the trial's fifteenth week, after all the evidence has been presented and argued against, the final summations begin. Tedeschi told the jury of Ivan Milats arrogance in believing that he would get away with the attack on Onions and the abduction and murder of seven young people -- an arrogance that prevented him from disposing of the property belonging to his victims. His address ran for three days as he spelled out the many pertinent facts that indicated that Ivan Milat was the killer, none of which had been suitably explained by his defense.

Martin began his summing up by telling the jury that obviously someone in the Milat family was responsible for the murders, but not his client. He tried to explain away the damning evidence as a conspiracy against Ivan by his own brothers. He began to narrow down his attack, suggesting that Richard made the comments about the murders to his friends at work and "may" have been in a position to commit all eight crimes, even though he was at work at the times of the offences. He ended his comments in the same vein: his client Ivan Milat had been set up.

Justice Hunt took two days to summarize the evidence for the jury. At 2:42 p.m. on the 24th July, he sent the jury out to consider their verdict. Three days passed, still no verdict. Meanwhile the Milat family, confident of an acquittal, made plans for a celebratory dinner. A strange ritual considering Ivans defense was based on the implication of members of his own family.

On Saturday, 27th July 1995, the remaining jurors filed into the courtroom to deliver their verdict. Justice Hunt asked Ivan to stand as the by the jury foreman read the verdicts. As each of the eight charges were read the verdict was the same. Guilty. Ivan Milat was asked if he had anything to say.

He replied, "Im not guilty of it. Thats all I have to say."

The sentences were then handed down. For the attack on Paul Onions, six years' imprisonment. For the remaining seven counts of willful murder, a life sentence for each. Ivan Milat was sentenced to prison "for the term of his natural life."

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