COULD Samantha Fraser possibly have got up, after sustaining 41 separate injuries at the hands of her estranged husband, Adrian Basham, and after being left in the blood-spattered garage of her family home, and tied a hangman’s noose around her own neck and killed herself?
She’d just celebrated her 38th birthday the evening before with friends, a happy occasion where the champagne was flowing. Could she possibly have sunk so low, so soon?
Could she have gone home and done that after dropping the three kids off at school, children to whom she was strongly devoted, and following a detour for coffee with friends, including time out to read a book at her favourite café?
Could she have gone home only minutes later, on the morning of Monday, July 23, 2018, and ended her own life?
Or could a person who publicly admitted to being angry about not seeing his kids since the previous Fathers’ Day, upset with an acrimonious break-up and with an intervention order and associated charges hanging over his head been the one more likely to do it?
And if it’s more likely that a bloke who has already admitted to a bloody awful attack on his wife of more than 10 years, in her own home in the hours leading up to her death, has killed her; is there room for “reasonable doubt”?
Ashley Halphen, Mr Basham’s legal counsel, says there is.
In his closing address in the Phillip Island murder trial, before the Supreme Court last Wednesday and Thursday, March 13 and 14, Mr Halphen picked apart every aspect of the prosecution’s circumstantial case from questioning Ms Fraser’s mental state, to the police timetable of what allegedly happened on the day, to the significance of the crime scene and forensic reports.
Mr Halphen started out by questioning Ms Fraser’s mental wellbeing on the morning of her death. He claimed the jury had to keep open the possibility that far from observations by her friend Lija Matthews that she was really happy at the café “something otherwise is lurking”.
He argued that the text message Samantha sent to art class teacher Peta Le Roy at 9.40am that morning, allegedly out of the blue, that she wasn’t feeling well and wouldn’t be coming to the class that day was a sign something was wrong.
Mr Halphen said that, as opposed to what Crown Prosecutor Nanette Rogers had said, that it was a common way of declining an appointment, he said there was absolutely no reason to suspect it wasn’t the truth.
He said that like the year before, around the time of her 37th birthday, when Samantha had considered taking her own life, that she may not have been as happy as she seemed, a year later, in July 2018.
While reviewing what many of Ms Fraser’s family members, friends and associates had said about her improved sense of wellbeing in recent times, Mr Halphen referred to Donna Zander’s evidence, a mental health social worker, who conducted assessments on Ms Fraser on January 15, 2018 and found she scored extremely highly for post-traumatic stress disorder and high, almost into the “extreme” range, for depression.
“Who is Samantha Fraser?” he asked.
“Happy but fragile? Really happy or pretending to be happy? How can this be answered when dealing with a private person? If things are really so good, why is Diazepam found in her system following the toxicological examination?”
Mr Halphen also referred to evidence given by Ms Matthews that the new relationship with Wayne Foster might not have been going so well.
He continues in this vein claiming it appears Ms Fraser has something to hide, that her proposed schedule on July 23, 2018 was “utterly disheveled by unknowns”.
Why is she carrying a large amount of cash in her purse, he wants to know? If she has an appointment at 12 noon in Wonthaggi (although information provided to the Sentinel-Times indicates the appointment with mental health social worker Nicole Stanes may actually have been in Cowes) why does she call in at home at 11.22am leaving barely enough time to get to the appointment?
He also leans heavily on the evidence of passer-by, Stephen Attrill, that he saw a male answering to the description of Mr Basham, standing on the driveway of 19 Seagrove Way, next to a bin with the door of the garage partly open at 10.45am or 10.50am, well before Ms Fraser even gets home, indicating he already had access to the house and wasn’t “laying in wait” as suggested by the prosecution.
He continues, presenting Mr Basham’s state of mind and actions before and after the alleged murder as ordinary, he claimed strong indications that Ms Fraser’s level of fear about her husband had lessened since the start of 2018 and moved to throw doubt on the conclusions that might be drawn from the forensic analysis of the crime scene.
He also said the prosecution had not established motive from the three suggested; the upcoming contest mention hearing about charges where Ms Fraser is also the alleged victim, the imposing of an intervention order which Mr Basham ultimately agreed to, and jealousy over a new relationship.
Mr Halphen claimed there was evidence that his client had started to move on, making positive steps in two new relationships of his own.
And he systematically dealt with the DND and forensic evidence: “What we ultimately submit is that the DNA evidence simply and of itself, does not advance the prosecution case in the slightest.”
A key point he makes about the location of Ms Fraser’s DNA and that of his client’s DNA, especially on the rope, is that it could have been deposited by primary or secondary transfer.
“Testing cannot distinguish,” he said, “between DNA that is transferred directly or secondarily. A person’s DNA can be located on an object that they had no contact with. Samantha Fraser’s DNA on the fuel tank of the motorcycle, Mr Basham’s motorcycle, is a good example and suggests the transfer came about because her DNA was transferred to Mr Basham during the physical confrontation in the garage where Ms Fraser received the non-fatal injuries and was subsequently deposited on the fuel tank by virtue of Mr Basham’s contact with his motorcycle.”
The motorbike was parked well away from the crime scene, leaving no possibility that Ms Fraser touched the bike herself.
Mr Halphen addressed the issues of alleged speeding when he left the scene, his response to the “death message” delivered by police and allegations that he interfered with police when they were interviewing some of his friends in San Remo.
Claims made by a neighbour at San Remo, he said, that Mr Basham was carrying something under his T-shirt on July 28, five days after the death of Ms Fraser should also be rejected, especially the speculation advanced by the prosecution that it was Ms Fraser’s missing white top.
In conclusion, Mr Halphen made a list of 17 pieces of evidence which he said left open the possibility of suicide as opposed to murder, as follows:
- Samantha Fraser considered suicide at the time of her birthday in 2017.
- She was found hanged one year later and one day after her birthday.
- The evidence of her positive emotional state does not pass muster for those reasons outlined yesterday.
- In January 2018, she was assessed as being severely depressed.
- On 16 July 2018, for reasons unknown, she was really emotional.
- She was described as happy but fragile on the day prior to her death.
- There was uncertainty surrounding her new relationship.
- The last person who saw her at the café described her as seeming okay.
- Samantha Fraser’s emotional state had changed over a relatively short period of time.
- She leaves G’day Tiger Café and goes home in secret, parking her car inside the garage.
- She sustains a number of non-fatal injuries prior to death.
- The cause of death is hanging.
- There is evidence of blood on Samantha Fraser’s hands.
- Samantha Fraser is forensically associated with items used for the purposes of hanging including the step ladder.
- Samantha Fraser’s droplet of blood in the bathroom strongly supports the proposition that she was alone after the assault.
- There is no evidence that Samantha Fraser could not tie a noose.
- The possibility of suicide is open on the evidence of Dr Parsons, Dr Iles and Ms Heffernan.
He said in his final summing up that while the case was “so desperately sad and no amount of anything will change that” the jury would have to find Mr Basham not guilty of murder if they acknowledged there was even a crack in the wall of the prosecution’s case.
The jury returns, after the Easter break, on Tuesday, April 19 to take instructions from Justice Taylor and will then retire to consider their verdict.
If you need support, talk to a GP or health professional. Support services include: SANE Australia on 1800 18SANE (7263) or sane.org; BeyondBlue on 1300 22 46 36 or beyond-blue.org.au; Lifeline on 13 11 14 orlifeline.org.au