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Judge who branded a lawyer’s question ‘BORING’ during a murder trial reverses verdict

A Victorian judge who labeled the interrogation of a witness witness as “boring” saw a convicted murderer roaming free.

Katia Pyliotis was jailed for 19 years last year for the murder of the lonely widower Elia Abdelmessih, whose alleged body was found next to a can of mangoes and a statue of the Virgin Mary with whom he was beaten.

Her conviction was ongoing long after four previous murder trials that began in 2017 were reported to the Victorian taxpayer for millions of dollars.

Katia Pyliotis (photo) was sentenced for 19 years in 2019 to the murder of the lonely widower Elia Abdelmessih

Katia Pyliotis (photo) was sentenced for 19 years in 2019 to the murder of the lonely widower Elia Abdelmessih

Justice Paul Coghlan called murder accused Katia Pyliotis' defense of a 'red herring meant to deceive' and told lawyers he would tell the jury

Justice Paul Coghlan called murder accused Katia Pyliotis' defense of a 'red herring meant to deceive' and told lawyers he would tell the jury

Justice Paul Coghlan called murder accused Katia Pyliotis’ defense of a ‘red herring meant to deceive’ and told lawyers he would tell the jury

Mr. Abdelmessih's broken body was found next to a can of mangoes and a statue of the Virgin Mary

Mr. Abdelmessih's broken body was found next to a can of mangoes and a statue of the Virgin Mary

Mr. Abdelmessih’s broken body was found next to a can of mangoes and a statue of the Virgin Mary

The latest debacle took place on Wednesday in Melbourne, where the Court of Appeal overturned that conviction and set up a fifth murder case before the Supreme Court.

“It is a matter for the Director of the Public Prosecutor’s Office whether the applicant is tried for the fifth time,” the three judges said.

Such a trial is likely to be delayed until sometime until late next year due to COVID-19 restrictions and the massive backlog of trials going through Victoria’s hidden legal system.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the final judge, Judge Paul Coghlan, made several fatal blunders – some in the presence of the jury – during the alleged killer’s final trial.

Her lawyer, Dermot Dann, QC, said the judge made a “negative and damning assessment” of the defense case, which he shared with the judges.

At one point, the investigating judge said the defense case was a “red herring meant to mislead,” telling the lawyers he would share that opinion with the jury later.

The defense had argued that a previous suspect in the case – who has since died – remained a valid suspect.

That woman confessed to the crime in 2005, but an officer told the court that days later, in the back of his police car, she had withdrawn his police car in a parking lot in a supermarket.

At one point, while trial attorney Richard Edney questioned a witness, Judge Coghlan intervened to tell him “this is even more boring than the other parts of your cross-examination.”

He made other comments to the jury, including that they were “13 years later” to hear evidence of the crime scene, and that “I have to answer these questions myself.”

Lawyer Dermot Dann QC said the judge made a 'negative and damning assessment' of the defense case, which he shared with judges

Lawyer Dermot Dann QC said the judge made a 'negative and damning assessment' of the defense case, which he shared with judges

Lawyer Dermot Dann QC said the judge made a ‘negative and damning assessment’ of the defense case, which he shared with judges

An image of the Virgin Mary was used to pound the skull of a lonely retiree (image)

An image of the Virgin Mary was used to pound the skull of a lonely retiree (image)

An image of the Virgin Mary was used to pound the skull of a lonely retiree (image)

Katia Pyliotis' DNA was found in a glove left at the place of murder. Her DNA was said to be found after a routine stop in South Australia years after the murder

Katia Pyliotis' DNA was found in a glove left at the place of murder. Her DNA was said to be found after a routine stop in South Australia years after the murder

Katia Pyliotis’ DNA was found in a glove left at the place of murder. Her DNA was said to be found after a routine stop in South Australia years after the murder

The former Kew McDonald’s employee had met her alleged victim in the fast-food shop shortly after his wife died and was convicted in a fourth murder trial 13 years after his death in 2005.

But the reason why the then “artless and otherworldly” 23-year-old allegedly killed her customer in his own house in a “mad attack” has never been revealed.

In 2006 Pyliotis moved to South Australia.

But she reportedly left her blood and DNA on a number of items around the house, including at least one of the murder weapons and a black glove with a torn finger, which was found near the body.

In 2016, Pyliotis provided the police with a saliva rod on a minor issue and linked her DNA to the deadly crime scene. She was extradited to Victoria.

From prison, she was included in phone calls suggesting she had been at the crime scene, but claimed to have found the victim dead.

She pleaded not guilty to murder, but was convicted by a Victoria Supreme Court jury in December 2018 and convicted last year.

Pyliotis had appealed her conviction on the grounds that Judge Coghlan’s observations during the trial led to a significant error of law.

The court agreed.

A new trial is expected to take place after the court overturnes Katia Pyliotis's conviction for the murder

A new trial is expected to take place after the court overturnes Katia Pyliotis's conviction for the murder

A new trial is expected to take place after the court overturnes Katia Pyliotis’s conviction for the murder

Three appellate judges found Justice Coghlan’s comments and others may have affected the jury’s assessment of the defense.

“To describe the counsel’s cross-examination as” boring “… tended to diminish the ability of a counsel and risk diminishing his position in the eyes of the jury,” said the judges.

“Such comments should, if ever warranted, be reserved for occasions when the jury is absent.”

Prosecutors had hoped the problem would simply go away and even went as far as to appeal the verdict themselves, urging the court to extend her time behind bars.

In defending the allegations, prosecutor Chris Boyce, QC said the judge had noted in his introductory remarks that he is making comments in matters intended to help judges make a decision, but that they are just comments and if judges disagree, they don’t have to listen.

“I should try to stay out of it more,” the judge told them, Mr. Boyce said.

But Justice Priest said it could be considered a debt awareness.

He later described Justice Coghlan’s boring comment as “unjustifiable,” while Justice Terry Forrest said it questioned Mr. Edney’s entire approach.

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