Early one morning in April 1984, a rower discovered the body of Stephen Docoza in Adelaide’s River Torrens. It had been submerged in the water for several days. It was already beginning to putrefy.
The following year, Derek Bromley and John Karpany were convicted of Docoza’s murder. Critical to the prosecution’s case was the evidence of Dr Colin Manock, SA’s chief forensic pathologist, who performed the autopsy on Docoza’s body and concluded he had been severely bashed and then forcibly drowned.
This finding has since been disputed. In 2017, three independent forensic pathologists who each conducted an expert review of the forensic evidence agreed Manock’s autopsy was inadequate: bruising on Docoza’s body could have been caused by putrefaction or the post-mortem procedure, and all possible causes of natural or accidental death had not been sufficiently excluded. As one of the pathologists, Professor Anthony Thomas, said, “There is no substantive evidence for drowning in this case.”
Karpany was paroled in 2004, and although Bromley has already served his non-parole period he remains in prison because he refuses to admit guilt. Having exhausted his legal options in South Australia, he will apply to appeal his conviction in the High Court later this year in the hope of finally clearing his name.
Questions loom over Manock’s evidence, and not only in regard to the Docoza case. Dr Robert Moles, an internationally renowned legal academic at Flinders University specialising in miscarriages of justice, has been investigating Manock for more than 19 years. In his sunny home office in the Adelaide Hills, he tells me that what he has discovered is “manifestly absurd”.
In 1968, Manock was appointed as the director of forensic pathology at South Australia’s Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science (IMVS; now SA Pathology). It was a very senior, specialist position, but he had no formal qualifications or training in forensic pathology or histopathology. He had completed his undergraduate medical training in 1962, undertook short work placements in toxicology, cardiology, neurosurgery and obstetrics between 1962 and 1964, and had been employed since 1966 as a lecturer in forensic medicine at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.
When the IMVS sought to appoint a senior director of forensic pathology in the early 1970s, Manock launched legal action to prevent what he argued was constructive dismissal. The court upheld his claim, thus cementing his position, but during the trial some concerning details emerged about his initial appointment in 1968. The then IMVS director, Dr James Bonnin, gave evidence that the institute was “desperate” to fill the position Manock was appointed to. He said that although Manock was “very young, relatively inexperienced” and “unable” to certify cause of death because he wasn’t properly trained, he was “the best applicant we had”. Bonnin acknowledged that having “a man who had no specialist qualifications in a specialist’s job” would be “a severe embarrassment”, but said he hoped Manock “would further study and progress” after taking up the role.
Manock did not complete further study. According to his own public statements, he conducted more than 10,000 autopsies and gave evidence in more than 400 criminal trials before retiring in 1995.
It was the case of Henry Keogh that first piqued Moles’s interest in Manock. Keogh was convicted in 1995 for the murder of his fiancée, Anna-Jane Cheney, who was found dead in the bath of their home. Based on apparent bruising on her left leg and haemolytic staining of her aorta, Manock concluded her legs had been held in the air and her head forced underwater until she had drowned.
When Moles reviewed the case five years later, it was “perfectly clear” to him that Keogh’s conviction was flawed. Other expert witnesses had testified that there was insufficient evidence to support Manock’s hypothesis, and that natural and accidental causes of death had not been properly ruled out. Moles became further convinced that Keogh was a victim of a serious miscarriage of justice when a re-examination of tissue samples of the bruises on Cheney’s left leg – which the prosecution had deemed “the one positive indication of murder” – found that some bruises could have been several days old and produced from day-to-day activities, and the supposed thumb mark might not have even been a bruise.
In 2014, a year after South Australia passed legislation allowing for a new statutory right of appeal for convicted criminals if fresh and compelling evidence emerged, Keogh successfully appealed his conviction. The Supreme Court said Manock’s murder hypothesis was “no more than mere speculation” and that he had “materially misled the prosecution, the defence, the trial judge and the jury”.
Moles cites many other examples of Manock’s alleged malfeasance.
Around 1978, Manock travelled to Mintabie, a remote South Australian town, where a man had been found dead. According to a senior constable who was present, Manock decided to perform the autopsy of the man’s body in full public view in the main street instead of in an available cool room. During the autopsy, he allegedly raised a ladle full of bodily fluids to the gathered crowd and made inappropriate remarks.
Six years later, Manock examined the body of 15-year-old Gerald Warren, who was found dead on a dirt track outside Port Augusta. Manock determined that Warren had died after falling from a moving vehicle, and that the lined marks on his body were caused by the corduroy of his trousers. Only after two men confessed in 1991 to murdering Warren did the true story emerge: he had been beaten with a threaded pipe and repeatedly run over.
Between 1992 and 1993, three babies died suddenly in separate incidents. According to Manock, each died from bronchopneumonia. This was rubbished by a subsequent coronial inquest, which highlighted that all three babies appeared to have been severely abused: one, for example, had extensive bruising and a fractured skull. The coroner said Manock’s post-mortem examination in each case “achieved the opposite of what should have been its purpose: it closed off lines of investigation rather than opening them up”.
What shocks Moles even more than these and other cases is that successive state governments, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the wider legal establishment, despite knowing for decades of Manock’s shocking record and of potential miscarriages of justice, consistently failed to intervene.
For example, in 2004 the then state solicitor-general (and current Supreme Court chief justice) Chris Kourakis commissioned an independent expert report into Henry Keogh’s case. It found major flaws in Manock’s evidence but was nevertheless the basis for the legal advice from Kourakis that kept Keogh behind bars until his successful appeal in 2014. The expert report was hidden from Keogh’s legal team for nine years without explanation. Kourakis’s advice remains confidential and the current state government is still fighting to prevent its public release. Mid last month, the Supreme Court stated that it supported the release of Kourakis’s review, but the state Civil and Administrative Tribunal is yet to say when this will occur.
According to Moles, the scale of Manock’s wrongdoing and the institutional complicity that allowed it to happen has “a strong parallel with the Lawyer X case in Melbourne” in which prominent criminal defence lawyer Nicola Gobbo was also working as a police informant.
The SA-Best party has recently joined Moles and other legal advocates in calling for a royal commission into Manock and the cases with which he was involved. Although this would be traumatic for many people affected, and could possibly see prisoners who committed a crime being released from jail because they didn’t receive a fair trial, Moles is adamant that it’s necessary if the legal system is “to maintain credibility”.
The state government disagrees. In a recent letter to one of Moles’s associates, South Australia’s deputy premier and attorney-general, Vickie Chapman, wrote, “I do not consider that investigation [into] Dr Manock’s work is necessary or justified at this stage.”
What Manock thinks of his own work became clear in 2004 at a Medical Board of South Australia inquiry into Keogh’s case. Manock accepted that parts of his forensic evidence during the trial had no scientific support. But, in his view, this wasn’t because the rest of the world thought differently from him; it was because “the rest of the world hadn’t caught up”.
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