Lawyers for a woman accused of using a statue of the Virgin Mary and a tin of mangoes to bludgeon a man to death are urging Victoria’s Supreme Court to effectively give her immunity from being tried a fifth time.
- Katia Pyliotis’ murder conviction was overturned and a retrial, which would be her fifth, was ordered
- Her lawyers said another trial would amount to an abuse of process
- Evidence from a detective about a confession from another woman, Susan Reddie, was questioned in court
Katia Pyliotis was jailed for 19 years over the murder of Eliah Abdelmessih on her fourth appearance in the Supreme Court, after three other trials were abandoned.
Mr Abdelmessih, 69, was found bludgeoned to death at his home in Kew, in Melbourne’s inner east, in September 2005.
Several items were found near his body including a broken statue of the Virgin Mary, a tin of mangoes and two wrenches.
But less than a year after her sentence, Ms Pyliotis’s conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal, and a retrial was ordered.
Today, her legal team urged the Supreme Court to issue a permanent stay on her case which they acknowledged in court documents would be “tantamount to an immunity from prosecution”.
“A fifth trial would now be so unfairly and unjustifiably oppressive as to constitute an abuse of process,” her barrister, Dermot Dann QC, said in court documents.
Detective’s missing diaries found
Mr Dann questioned the credibility of Warren Ryan, a current Queensland Police officer and former Victorian homicide detective who gave evidence in the case.
Senior Constable Ryan testified that another woman who claimed to have murdered Mr Abdelmessih later took back her confession.
He has long maintained that notes of the recantation made by Susan Reddie, an alcoholic with an acquired brain injury who had sex with Mr Abdelmessih for money, was in his police diary, which was lost when he left the force.
But in what the defence called a “shocking revelation”, the missing diary was recovered in June this year and actually contained a “further confession” from Ms Reddie.
The notes revealed that after having sex with Mr Abdelmessih in September 2005, for which she was paid $20, Ms Reddie claimed she used a statue of the Virgin Mary to bludgeon him.
Ms Pyliotis’s barrister, Mr Dann, said the police officer’s claim that the other woman had taken back her murder confession was “patently false”.
“Contrary to Mr Ryan’s repeated evidence, there is no diary note of the alleged recantation,” Mr Dann said.
“The facts of this case are highly unusual, and have been highly publicised. Much of that publicity has centred on the use of the statue of the Virgin Mary as a murder weapon.
Today, Senior Constable Ryan was grilled for hours over his recollection and his diary.
At one point, he was pulled up by Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth after he conceded he was speculating about some evidence.
“I’m not remotely interested in your speculating,” Justice Hollingworth said.
“You’ve done enough speculation in this case,” she said.
Later, the Supreme Court judge challenged the police officer on the consistency of his testimony.
“Your evidence just keeps shifting, Mr Ryan,” she said.
DNA evidence links accused to the scene: prosecutor
But Crown Prosecutor Angela Ellis argued that there was no basis for Ms Pyliotis to be effectively given immunity from prosecution.
“The absence of any entry relating to the recantation does not establish that the conversation with Susan Reddie did not occur, or more importantly, that Ryan’s evidence is false,” Ms Ellis said.
Ms Ellis pointed to forensic evidence that revealed Mr Abdelmessih had not had sex before his death, contradicting Ms Reddie’s confession.
“There was no forensic evidence to link Ms Reddie to the murder scene,” she said.
But Ms Ellis said Ms Pyliotis’s DNA was found on multiple items in the victim’s home, including on the statue of the Virgin Mary, a plastic bag, a toilet roll tube, a bloodstain on a tile and on a black glove.
Court documents revealed that the glove had been cut or torn on the left index finger, which matched a cut on Ms Pyliotis’ finger.
Ms Ellis urged the court to dismiss the application for a permanent stay.
“The interests of the accused must be balanced with the community’s right to expect that those charged with criminal offences are brought to trial,” she said.
“Here, an elderly man was brutally bludgeoned to death in his own home. The power to grant a permanent stay should be ‘used sparingly and with the utmost caution’.”