A raft of new evidence has raised fresh doubts about the conviction of Roseanne Catt for conspiring to kill her ex-husband. Wendy Bacon reports one key witness for Catt has been bashed and handed a bullet.
Originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald
Last August, Roseanne Catt was released after serving 10 years of a 12-year sentence when the NSW Attorney-General, Bob Debus, asked the Court of Criminal Appeal to reconsider her convictions. Nearly a year later, she is still on bail. Yesterday, the Court of Criminal Appeal ordered the facts in her case to be reheard by a judge.
Because of the number of offences for which Roseanne was convicted, and the large amount of fresh evidence, a judicial inquiry could take months. After the judge has established the facts, the Court of Criminal Appeal will decide if Roseanne should have been found guilty of any or all of the charges against her.
Roseanne's case goes back to 1985 when she married Taree motor mechanic Barry Catt. During their brief marriage, Barry was committed to a psychiatric hospital several times, charged with assault, placed on restraining orders and committed for trial for sexual assault of his four children. In July 1989, the Newcastle Family Court gave Roseanne temporary control of the business and custody of her stepchildren.
Events took a dramatically different course after then Detective Sergeant Peter Thomas, a member of the Newcastle Major Crime Squad, got involved. He had first crossed swords with Roseanne in 1983 when he had charged her with burning down her delicatessen. The arson case was dropped after the Attorney-General decided not to proceed. In 1985, the NSW Ombudsman found that Thomas had given false evidence at a hearing into complaints Roseanne had laid against him after her arrest. Roseanne had also contributed to a dossier on police corruption in Taree which had been sent to then shadow attorney-general John Dowd in 1985. Thomas, who had known and drunk with Barry Catt for many years, later admitted that he had "intensely disliked" Roseanne.
In August 1989, Thomas instructed other Newcastle police that he was taking over the Barry Catt sexual assault matter and they should tell Roseanne her complaints against her husband had been "rebutted". A few days later, he led police in a raid on Roseanne's house and arrested her for possession of a pistol and a host of other charges. Barry was acquitted of the sexual assault charges. After a four-month trial, Roseanne was convicted of possessing a pistol, perjuring herself in a case against Barry for assaulting her and poisoning, stabbing, assaulting and conspiring to kill her husband. By this time, Thomas had left the police force and become a private investigator in Queensland. After Roseanne was convicted, Barry's children retracted their allegations that their father had sexually abused them.
Roseanne has always maintained her innocence, but until last year there seemed little hope that her convictions could ever be overturned.
What had seemed a lost cause for Roseanne changed when Thomas's former business partner, Queensland businessman Peter Caesar, flew to Sydney in May last year and told Crown investigators that Thomas had told him at the time of Roseanne's trial that he, Thomas, had planted a gun on Roseanne.
In a signed statement, Caesar stated that Thomas had told him that "if you get three or four good guys around you, basically plan your attack in court, everyone sticks to their story and the person's charged and jailed".
Caesar also stated that Thomas - who had told him he had "people bashed, kneecapped and basically done over" - had threatened him. Caesar had come forward after a business falling out with Thomas. Thomas last year declined to answer Herald questions about the alleged planting of the gun and other matters.
Caesar's statement was the fresh evidence needed to reopen Roseanne's case. A year later, a mountain of affidavits has been filed in the Supreme Court, signed by others prepared to give evidence in the Roseanne Catt appeal.
A persistent theme running through this evidence is fear. A number of people who have had no contact with each other state that they fear Thomas or Barry Catt or did not give evidence at the trial because they were afraid of Thomas.
Roseanne's case took another dramatic turn this week when a key figure in the case (who does not wish to be named) told NSW police he had been assaulted on June 24 by two men and handed a bullet which he was told was "custom-made" for him. This man swore an affidavit in May this year that about two years ago he had been asked to get a revolver so that Roseanne could be shot in jail. He said he had reported this and other information about criminal activities in Taree to police at the time but was not aware of any action being taken.
Last month, Roseanne's lawyer, Kevin Rogers, wrote to the NSW Police Commissioner, Ken Moroney, after the man rang him and told him he had been bashed. The Herald has interviewed the man, who is seeking police protection because he believes his life is in danger.
Relatives of Roseanne Catt have sworn affidavits that they did not give evidence supporting her case because they had been threatened by Thomas. Her sister, Joy McGregor, has sworn that in 1989, Thomas said: "Stay out of it ... if you don't ... I will do the same to you as I did to Roseanne."
The Crown case against Roseanne relies heavily on the credibility of Barry Catt and Thomas.
One difficulty facing Roseanne's legal team is establishing the relevance of the activities of Barry Catt and Thomas since the trial. This fresh evidence relates to subsequent violent acts by Barry and the methods Thomas uses in collecting evidence. This fresh evidence includes a statement by a woman that police have failed to act on serious assaults on her by Barry Catt; a statement by a Queensland woman that in 1999 Thomas offered her $10,000 to give evidence that her employer had burnt down his hotel; and a statement by an ex-employee of Thomas that after she had questioned him about a claim for expenses in an insurance investigation, he said: " You know how I handled Roseanne Catt. I'll do the same to you."
The Crown yesterday indicated to the court it could reach an agreement with the defence before the fresh hearing begins.
After Roseanne was arrested, the then Supreme Court judge David Allen commented in a bail hearing in August 1989 that the evidence against her did not appear strong, and said he had strong doubts about the objectivity of Thomas.
After this hearing, Roseanne's lawyers wrote to the Police Commissioner to move Thomas from the case. The lawyers warned police then that if Roseanne was cleared, they would sue for abuse of process. Since she has now served 10 years, any compensation claim, should she be acquitted, would be huge.
Since Roseanne's conviction, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions has paid more than $300,000 in court costs to others acquitted after other prosecutions led by Thomas failed. In one case, Judge Harvey Cooper in the District Court found that Thomas would use "fair means or foul" to obtain a conviction.
In the other case, Jake Sourian, charged by Thomas in 1988 with burning down a muffler business at a service station in Chatswood, was acquitted and awarded $96,000. Last month, Green MLC Lee Rhiannon told Parliament there should be an inquiry into an alleged conspiracy between Thomas and Nelson Chad - another private investigator who had been dismissed from the NSW Police in 1986 - to falsely accuse Sourian of arson.
No attempt was ever made to alert Roseanne's lawyers or to inform her of any of these findings. These cases have been raised by Roseanne's lawyers in her appeal.
Another matter which will be raised in Roseanne's appeal is the contradictory statements made by Barry Catt in the years since her conviction. He told the court in Roseanne's trial he had been stabbed with a kitchen knife. When he was interviewed by Channel 9's 60 Minutes last year, it was a "small oyster knife". He was the only witness to this alleged stabbing - which he did not report to police at the time.
Back in 1991, the trial judge, Justice Jane Matthews, told the jury that it had to decide whether Roseanne Catt was an "evil and manipulative woman" or the victim of a "monstrous conspiracy" between her husband and his friend, Thomas.
Eleven years later, the Court of Criminal Appeal is again being asked to answer the same question.