17 May 2022

Peter Keeley could have died from head injuries, suffocation or drugs, murder trial told

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Peter Keeley

Canberra’s Peter Keeley, 56, was found dead at Broulee on 2 February 2020. Photo: NSW Police.

The death of Canberra real estate agent Peter Keeley could have been due to a combination of head injuries and suffocation or drugs in his system, his murder trial has heard.

Two teenage boys, both aged 17 at the time of his death, have faced a trial in the NSW Supreme Court charged with murdering the 56-year-old in bushland near the NSW South Coast town of Broulee more than two years ago.

While they pleaded guilty to an aggravated kidnapping charge, admitting they detained and assaulted him, they pleaded not guilty to murdering him.

The week-long judge-alone trial began earlier this month and legal parties gave their closing addresses on Friday and Monday (13 and 16 May), during which it was said the main issue to decide was causation.

Crown Prosecutor Nerissa Keay said it was agreed that Mr Keely died between 3:33 pm and when a witness found his body at 4:45 pm on 2 February 2020, but there was not a lot of information about what happened between those times.

It was the Crown case that when Mr Keeley arrived at the powerline easement in the bush, he got out of his car and was “extensively assaulted”, especially to his head. Blows to his forehead appeared to be from a stick or shoe.

Experts agreed he suffered a brain injury that could have left him concussed and could have happened during the assault, Ms Keay said.

She said he had a “classic defensive injury” on his arm, while blood under his fingernails matched the first accused teenager and his hands and knees showed “significant exposure” to dirt.

She alleged this suggested Mr Keely “was on his hands and knees during the assault”, while “dirt and debris embedded in Mr Keely’s teeth show he had his face pushed into the ground”.

READ MORE Murder trial hears Peter Keeley was bashed, tied up before body found in bush

She also claimed Mr Keeley’s body was dragged to where it was found – which was in bush just off the easement – and as there was no movement in furrows on the ground to indicate he was struggling, he was either unconscious or already dead when he was dragged.

Mr Keely died from craniofacial trauma and airway obstruction, she argued.

“It was the Crown’s case they [the injuries] are significant as they caused bleeding in the nose and mouth, which may have had an effect on his ability to maintain oxygen to his airways,” she said.

She also said there were multiple ways his airways could have been obstructed, including with a gag.

Ms Keay said the methylamphetamine in his system “may have exacerbated” what he experienced, but it was the opinion of forensic pathologist Dr Bernard I’Ons that if “Mr Keely had not been assaulted, and airways not obstructed, he would not have died”.

“Mr Keely died with methylamphetamine in his system … he did not die from methylamphetamine,” she said.

Barrister Carolyn Davenport SC, appearing for the second accused, said a witness who had known Mr Keeley for two years told the court he was a “regular ice user who went on benders”.

She said photos of his Honda Jazz showed it contained an Aldi bag with two “loaded syringes” inside and the Crown conceded they probably contained drugs. Also, a toxicology report found methamphetamine and cannabis in his blood.

Ms Davenport said the findings of a toxicologist didn’t differ substantially from that of forensic pathologist Professor Johan Duflou in that drugs could be a cause of death.

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Barrister Clive Steirn SC, representing the first teen, said Professor Duflou had a “worldwide reputation” and had been a pathologist for almost 40 years.

He said Professor Duflou reported the injuries to Mr Keeley’s head and brain were not life-threatening, there could be other explanations for dirt in his mouth and there was not enough evidence to conclude he had packing tape over his mouth at the time of death.

Also, he said if Mr Keeley’s airways had been obstructed, there would have been sand or debris in his airway. No sand was found there.

Ms Davenport said the second teen had put Mr Keeley into a recovery position. She claimed he had still been alive and there had been no covering over his mouth at that stage.

Mr Steirns said Professor Duflou reported that when Mr Keeley was found he didn’t have tape over his mouth and if he survived the period when there was tape over his mouth, he wouldn’t die of airway obstruction simply because his mouth was covered at some point by dirt.

Justice Michael Walton has retired to consider his verdict.

Original Article published by Albert McKnight on Riotact.

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