A man who spent nearly seven years behind bars over the high-profile 2008 slaying of Edward Spowart in western Sydney has been acquitted of murder.
The man, who cannot be named because he was only 15 when Mr Spowart was stabbed to death during a brawl on the streets of Granville, was handed a maximum 23-year jail term in 2010.
He has previously launched appeal bids in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA) and the High Court in an effort to have his conviction overturned.
However it was not until 2014, after all avenues of appeal were exhausted, that he was able to have the CCA reconsider his case following revelations about evidence given at trial by the star prosecution witness.
“A significant aspect of the crown case was the contention that the applicant made admissions at a police station following his arrest,” Justice Robert Allan Hulme said then.
“The admissions were said to have been made to a support person, ‘A107’, who was present because the applicant was a vulnerable person because of his age.”
Though the crown relied on other evidence at trial, “its case was put to the jury on the basis that a verdict of guilty could be returned on the evidence of the alleged admission alone”, Justice Hulme said.
But the so-called support person to whom the admissions were allegedly made, it has now emerged, was in fact a registered police informer.
This was never disclosed to the accused teenager’s legal team at trial.
In March 2015, the CCA – the state’s highest criminal court – agreed to quash the young man’s murder conviction and on Friday, the same court ordered that he be acquitted.
The decision means the young man will not face a retrial, as was sought by prosecutors, and is now, at the age of 23, a free man.
In a judgment on Friday, Chief Justice Clifton Hoeben said that the crown evidence was “not capable of establishing beyond reasonable doubt that (the youth) murdered Edward Spowart” once “A107” was removed from the equation.
At sentencing in 2010, then-NSW Supreme Court judge Megan Latham said the teenager – who had arrived in Australia as a Sudanese refugee only three years before Mr Spowart’s death – had fatally stabbed Mr Spowart after he asked for a cigarette and was rebuffed.
“Apparently reacting out of a wounded sense of pride, the offender threw a punch,” the former judge said.
A short time later, Ms Latham said, “it appears that various men and youths armed themselves with sticks, bricks and street signs”.
Mr Spowart was set upon and stabbed several times.
“In every sense of the term, he was an innocent bystander,” Ms Latham said.
Though he was sentenced to jail in 2010, the young man had been in custody since 2008 and was released from custody on bail pending appeal in late 2014, after serving six years and eight months of his original sentence.