Robert Farquharson

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For the 20th century Scottish doctor and politician, see Robert Farquharson (MP). For the actor, see Robert Farquharson (actor).
Robert Farquharson
Born 1969 (1969)
Australia
Criminal charge
Murder x 3
Criminal penalty
Sentenced to life imprisonment with a 33 year minimum[1]
Criminal status
Found guilty
Spouse(s) Cindy Gambino (divorced)
Children 3

Robert Donald William Farquharson (born 1969) is an Australian man charged, tried and convicted of murdering his three sons on Father's Day in 2005 by driving them in his car into a farm dam.[2]

Farquharson was convicted in an earlier trial and was sentenced to life imprisonment with no minimum term. However, he maintained his innocence and appealed his sentence.[3] On 17 December 2009, he won the right to a retrial, due in part to the key witness for the prosecution, Greg King, facing potential criminal charges himself at the time of the original trial.[4] He was released on bail on 21 December, but was again convicted of murder on 22 July 2010.

Early life[edit]

The deceased Farquharson children, Jai, 10, Bailey, 2, Tyler, 7

Farquharson met his future wife, Cindy Gambino, in February 1990. In 1996, he took a redundancy package from his employer and bought a lawn-mowing franchise servicing his local area, a venture which lost him AUD 40,000.[5]

Farquharson married Gambino in 2000[5] and they had three children by 2002. The pair separated amicably in 2004.[6] Farquharson suffered bouts of depression and sought the assistance of a psychologist and later a psychiatrist to deal with the separation. He was prescribed the antidepressants Zoloft and later Avanza.[5]

Drownings[edit]

About 7 pm on 4 September 2005, as Farquharson was returning his children to their mother after a Father's Day access visit, his white 1989 VN Commodore vehicle veered across the Princes Highway between Winchelsea and Geelong, crashed through a fence and came to rest in a farm dam where it filled with water and submerged. His three children, Jai (10), Tyler (7) and Bailey (2), were unable to free themselves and drowned. Farquharson managed to escape and alerted another driver who took him to nearby Winchelsea.[7] Police divers recovered the boys' bodies about 2 am the next day. They were still inside the vehicle and unrestrained by seatbelts.

After a three-month investigation, police prepared murder charges against Farquharson and went to his Winchelsea home on 14 December 2005. He was not there at the time but presented himself at the Geelong police station in the presence of his lawyer. He was arrested and charged with three counts of murder. He had previously requested and undertook a lie detector test, the results of which are inadmissible in court.[8] He later appeared in the Geelong Magistrates Court, where he was remanded in custody and ordered to appear before the court on 7 April 2006.[7]

Gambino told the court that she did not believe Farquharson intended to kill their children deliberately, saying "I believe with all my heart that this was just an accident and that he would not have hurt a hair on their heads. I don't believe this is murder."[9]

Police alleged that Farquharson was in control of the vehicle in the moments before it crashed into the dam and that he earlier told a friend, Greg King, that he had intended to kill his children to get back at his wife.[10] He was later granted bail and released from custody to appear at his trial which was scheduled to begin in August 2007.

Trial[edit]

Farquharson's trial for the murder of his sons began in the Supreme Court of Victoria, before Justice Philip Cummins, on 21 August 2007.[11] A total of 49 witnesses appeared during the six-week trial.[12]

Prosecution[edit]

Sergeant Glen Urquhart gave evidence that the steering wheel of Farquharson's vehicle would require a 220-degree turn to veer as it did on the highway to leave the road. There was no evidence of braking before the car entered the dam.[13] The vehicle's headlights, heater and ignition system were all in the off position.[5]

The body of the oldest child, Jai, was found protruding half way out of the vehicle's front door. The other boys were discovered in the back seat.

Police video re-enactments of the crime scene played before the court showed the car veering left, instead of right, towards the dam at the exact position on the highway the accident happened. Farquharson's car was found to pull slightly to the right, though not to the degree that would counteract the left-veering force according to Urquhart.

King, a bus driver, testified that he recalled a conversation with Farquharson two months before the incident outside a fish and chip shop. He said his friend spoke of seeking revenge on his former wife and of wanting to "take away the things that mean the most to her",[citation needed] meaning the children. King recalled Farquharson complaining how his wife had taken the newer of the two cars. But King's wife could not recall her husband relaying this conversation to her that day.

Another witness, Shane Atkinson, who discovered Farquharson on the side of the road, said Farquharson twice refused to call the 000 emergency number, preferring instead to travel to Winchelsea to tell his wife of his children's fate.[13] The court transcript reveals Atkinson had to borrow a mobile phone to call police from the Winchelsea police station, which was closed for the night. This backs up the evidence given originally at the committal hearing that no mobile phone was available.

Matthew Naughton, an associate professor and specialist in sleep and respiratory medicine, told the jury that it was highly unlikely Farquharson had suffered a coughing fit in the moments before the accident.[14] He further testified that coughing to the point of blacking out is an extremely rare condition, known as cough syncope, and that Farquharson was unlikely to have suffered such an attack while driving given the warmth of his vehicle.[15] He later conceded, however, that he had never seen cough syncope, would not know how to take a history to determine it and was sceptical even of its existence, a consideration not backed up by others in the same sphere of medicine.

Defence[edit]

Farquharson relied upon the defence of losing consciousness due to a coughing fit and told police that he woke up in the dam. He said that the car begun to submerge when his son Jai tried to free himself by opening the passenger door.[16]

Cam Everett, the owner of the property where the dam was located, told the court that a total of seven vehicles had crashed through his farm fence in eight years. No vehicles other than Farquharson's had ended up in the dam in that time.[5]

Former police superintendent David Axup, who has not been a policeman for over 20 years, contradicted the prosecution's arguments about the path and steering of the car as it left the road, believing it had probably travelled on a 53-degree arc. He said this could be explained by the right camber of the road towards the dam as well as the fact that the car had poor wheel alignment, meaning it would move uncontrolled to the right.[17]

Farquharson's thoracic medicine specialist, Chris Steinfort, also concluded it was "highly likely" that his patient had suffered from cough syncope on the night. Steinfort has seen cases of cough syncope and believed the symptoms suffered by Farquharson were a "classic" example.[18]

Verdict[edit]

The day before the verdict came in, Farquharson arranged for flowers (three red tulips) to be laid at the grave of his children. Attached was a card reading "Dear Jai, Thinking of you on your birthday. Love you, Dad." Jai would have turned 13 that day.[19]

After three days of deliberations, the jury found Farquharson guilty on 5 October 2007.[2] Gambino broke down in court when the verdict was announced; her mother collapsed and was taken to hospital by ambulance.[15] Justice Cummins allowed a recess of 15 minutes for the court to compose itself before proceedings resumed.[20]

On 16 November 2007, Farquharson was sentenced to three terms of life imprisonment without parole. He then announced that he intended to appeal his convictions.[3]

Appeal, bail and retrial[edit]

On 17 December 2009, Farquharson's conviction was unanimously overturned by the three appeal judges. They were critical of the trial judge, the prosecution and the evidence of key prosecution witness Greg King.[21] On 21 December 2009 he was granted bail and released into the care of one of his sisters with AUD 200,000 surety.[22]

The retrial commenced on 4 May 2010 before Justice Lex Lasry QC. The jury retired to consider their verdict on 19 July 2010 after hearing 11 weeks of evidence and argument.[23] On 22 July, after three days of deliberation, the second jury again found Farquharson guilty of murder. On 15 October 2010 he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a 33 year minimum.[24]

Media offers[edit]

Harpo Productions, the company of American talk show host Oprah Winfrey, is reported to have offered Gambino $1 million to appear on the programme and tell her story.[5] Gambino told her story to Australian magazine Woman's Day, saying that she did not believe Farquharson had killed their children,[25] but has since changed her mind.[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ AAP (22 July 2010). "Robert Farquharson guilty of murdering sons". news.com.au (News Ltd). Retrieved 22 July 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Gregory, Peter (5 October 2007). "Dad guilty of killing sons". The Age (Melbourne, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Rennie, Reko (5 October 2007). "Dad to appeal conviction". The Age (Melbourne, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  4. ^ Rout, Milanda (17 December 2009). "Robert Farquharson to face retrial over death of three sons". The Australian (Sydney, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Kissane, Karen (6 October 2007). "In the name of the father, how could he?". The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  6. ^ Houlihan, Liam (7 October 2007). "Oprah $1m offer to 'dam' mum". The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Silvester, John; Adams, David (15 December 2005). "'Dumbfounded' dad to fight murder charges". The Age (Melbourne, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  8. ^ Silvester, John (21 September 2005). "Drowned brothers' father takes lie detector test". The Age (Melbourne, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  9. ^ Medew, Julia (15 August 2006). "Court told of plan to kill three sons". The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  10. ^ "Father was in control of car before dam plunge, court told". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 16 August 2006. Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  11. ^ "Dad on trial over Father's Day drownings". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 21 August 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  12. ^ "Farquharson jury considers verdict". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2 October 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  13. ^ a b Bice, Katie (6 October 2007). "Killer father's daze". Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  14. ^ Bice, Katie (13 September 2007). "Expert hits dam dad's blackout plea". Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  15. ^ a b "Father found guilty of killing three sons". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 5 October 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  16. ^ Gregory, Peter (14 September 2007). "'Dad, we're in water'". The Age (Melbourne, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  17. ^ "Farqharson's guilty verdict shocks top lawyers". Geelong Advertiser (Geelong, Australia). 9 October 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  18. ^ "Blackout behind car wheel likely: doctor". The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia). 20 September 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  19. ^ Ryan, Kelly (8 October 2007). "Flowers from Robert Farquharson to his children victims". Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  20. ^ Sherborne, Craig (6 October 2007). "Mum in agony as day of judgment arrives". Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  21. ^ Devic, Aleks (18 December 2009). "Robert Farquharson's triple murder conviction in Winchelsea quashed". Geelong Advertiser (Geelong). Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  22. ^ "Dam deaths father granted bail". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 21 December 2009. Retrieved 21 December 2009. 
  23. ^ Petrie, Andrea (19 July 2010). "Farquharson jury retires to consider verdict". The Age (Melbourne: Fairfax Media). Retrieved 19 July 2010. 
  24. ^ AAP (22 July 2010). "Robert Farquharson guilty of murdering sons". news.com.au (News Ltd). Retrieved 22 July 2010. 
  25. ^ Cooper, Mex (23 October 2007). "Farquharson internet campaign starts". Geelong Advertiser (Geelong, Australia). Retrieved 21 December 2009.