IT WAS the ‘whodunnit’ moment that defence lawyer Ashley Halphen spoke about on the second day of the Phillip Island murder trial back on Wednesday, March 16.
Did the accused man, Adrian Basham, handle the rope that was found in a hangman’s knot around the neck of his estranged wife, Samantha Fraser, in the garage of her Cowes’ home on Monday, July 23, 2018, or didn’t he?
Senior forensic officer at the Biological Examination branch of the Victoria Police Forensic Services Centre, Jenelle Heffernan, told the Melbourne Supreme Court on Tuesday this week that it was highly likely Mr Basham’s DNA was found in three separate locations on the bloodied rope used to hang Ms Fraser.
In one of those locations, on the section of “untied rope”, Ms Heffernan found it was “100 billion times more likely” that Sam Fraser’s and Adrian Basham’s DNA were both found on that part of the rope than if it was Sam’s DNA and the DNA of two unknown people.
On the outer surface of the knot, Ms Heffernan found that it was 10,000 times more likely that the DNA found there was Mr Basham’s and Ms Fraser’s.
And on the loop below the knot, laboratory testing found that there were two contributions to the DNA profile that were found and that these were 1500 times more likely to be Mr Basham’s and Ms Fraser’s DNA than Ms Fraser and an unknown person.
It looked to be a key moment in the trial, especially after the prosecution had gone to great lengths to argue earlier that Mr Basham had not visited his former Seagrove Way home after Sam’s parents, Trevor and Janine Fraser, had moved in during December 2017, after the couple had permanently separated and an intervention order was put in place on April 28, 2017.
Mr Fraser said as much in answer to questions from Crown Prosecutor Nanette Rogers SC on Day 4 of the trial.
“But after you moved into 19 Seagrove Way, Mr Basham did not use or touch either of the ropes in your presence?
“No, no, he was no longer there then at that time,” Mr Fraser said.
And to Mr Halphen: “To the best of my knowledge, I don’t believe Adrian would’ve had the opportunity to have touched the rope,” he said.
The rope used to hang Ms Fraser was one of two ropes brought into the garage at 19 Seagrove Way by Mr Fraser, in December 2017, to tie down his firewood.
It was left to Amelia Beech for the defence to challenge the notion that the high likelihood of Mr Basham’s DNA being on the rope proved he had a hand in hanging Ms Fraser.
The defence maintains that while the accused admits to inflicting non-life threatening injuries on Ms Fraser, when he left the garage on the morning of July 23, 2018, she was still alive and allegedly went ahead and hanged herself.
While cross examining Ms Heffernan’s evidence, Ms Beech repeated details provided to the court by the senior forensic officer herself, that it was possible for the DNA of one person to be transferred by someone else if they happened to come into contact with the blood, saliva or flaking skin of another person.
“So, what I want to ask you now, is you’ve given some evidence about an idea, or a concept principally known as secondary transfer. So, I think you gave an example of if someone bled on a lectern and you touched the blood, you might have their DNA on your hands without having touched the bleeding person.” Ms Beech suggested, asking if it was possible to “collect” someone else’s DNA and deposit it somewhere else.
“Yes, it’s possible to collect,” Ms Heffernan said.
“And there’s nothing in the testing that you do that can distinguish between where the DNA’s been deposited by secondary transfer or by primary transfer?” Ms Beech said.
But how likely it is that all three of those high probability detections of Mr Basham’s DNA on the rope were the result of secondary transfer is something the jury is going to have to decide.
The court also heard from Adrian Basham’s father Jim on Tuesday this week, who acknowledged during questioning by Dr Rogers that his son had told him he was travelling at “astronomical speeds”, in excess of 200km/h, during his ride from San Remo to Paynesville on the afternoon of Monday, July 23, 2018.
The manufacturer rates the Kawasaki Ninja 1000, ridden by Mr Basham that day, as capable of reaching speeds of up to 245km/h.
Asked by Dr Rogers if his son had expressed any feelings to him when he arrived at the house or a bit later, Mr Basham senior said “yes”.
“Yes, he did, he mentioned that he felt suicidal.”
Earlier in the trial the court had heard Adrian Basham had been picked up by Bairnsdale Police for speeding that day, July 23, 2018, the day his estranged wife had died in suspicious circumstances.
The case continues this week with the prosecution likely to reach the end of its list of witnesses mid-week.