true crime

Jimmy was savagely beaten and killed. Years later, his parents fought for his killer's release.

It was a murder that sparked many a headline.

In 2006, Jimmy O’Connell’s body was found 40 metres from the burnt-out shell of his Mitsubishi Magna in bushland near Darwin.

His body was unrecognisable, mutilated, and missing clothes.

In 2009, Northern Territory Supreme Court judge David Angel found that, based on evidence, Philip Mather, a friend and fishing companion of O’Connell of five years, had launched an unprovoked, savage attack on the victim.

After a falling out over an Esky, which O’Connell had reportedly left at Mather’s house, Maher repeatedly punched the 24-year-old, stomped on his head and chest, and left him to die after setting his car alight.

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During sentencing, Justice Angel said that it was a vicious attack.

“The assault was unprovoked, savage and sustained upon a helpless victim whose calls for mercy went unheeded,” he said, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

“There was a substantial degree of violence and aggression. It was a repeated assault.”

In the following weeks, 33-year-old Mather was tried and convicted of manslaughter. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail, with a non-parole period of nine years.

“Mr O’Connell accused you of stealing his Esky – a very large and quite expensive article of 160 litre capacity,” Justice Angel said, according to news.com.au.

“You wished to settle things once and for all with him.”

At the time, Mather claimed that he pleaded guilty to manslaughter to avoid a murder trial under pressure.

“I took a plea because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life behind bars for something I didn’t do,” he reportedly told a visitor in jail, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

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Astonishingly, O’Connell’s parents wholeheartedly believed him.

On the day Mather was sentenced, the case sparked even more attention nationwide when O’Connell’s mother Trudy revealed that she didn’t believe Mather was responsible for her son’s death.

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“If he [Mather] did it I’m satisfied but I don’t believe that’s what happened,” she said at the time.

“I will never know what happened to my son.”

Similarly, O’Connell’s father Jim said that if he could, he would swap places with Mather.

“It’s sad to see a bloke in jail for Jimmy’s death who didn’t do it,” he said.

“Jimmy didn’t have many mates. Philip was one of them,” he continued.

“I’ll fight until I have nothing left to find out what happened.”

It’s believed O’Connell’s parents continued to visit Mather in prison following his conviction.

Now, a decade on from Mather’s sentencing, a new podcast is delving into the infamous Northern Territory-based case.

The Audible original podcast, which was created by Walkley award-winning journalist Mark Whittaker, will uncover everything from new evidence to alleged police corruption, and even a new theory about O’Connell’s death.

Throughout the 10-part podcast titled Blood Territory, Whittaker interviews Mather, O’Connell’s parents, and a mysterious figure known only as ‘The Vigilante’.

“From the moment I first heard this story, I was captivated by a family fighting to prove the innocence of their son’s killer,” Whittaker said.

“The Top End of Australia is notorious for hiding people, and secrets that don’t want to be found – it’s the perfect backdrop for such a cryptic story. As the sequences of events and unusual characters are revealed, it becomes clear this is one of the strangest Aussie mysteries I’ve ever encountered.”

Blood Territory is available now on Audible. It’s available for free with an Audible account until November 20.

You can listen to Mamamia’s true crime podcast, True Crime Conversations, here.


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