Having spent almost five years behind bars for killing a 21-year-old man in WA’s north, cognitively impaired Aboriginal man Gene Gibson will finally walk free from prison after the Court of Appeal overturned his conviction.
Mr Gibson, from the remote desert community of Kiwirrkurra, has been serving seven-and-a-half years’ jail for allegedly fatally striking Josh Warneke from behind as he walked home from a night out in Broome in 2010.
A series of flawed police interviews more than two years later were deemed inadmissible, forcing prosecutors to drop a murder charge and accept Mr Gibson’s guilty plea to manslaughter.
But his conviction was appealed on the basis he suffered a miscarriage of justice because he did not have the cognitive ability or language skills to understand what was happening during the legal process.
On Wednesday the WA Court of Appeal made the unanimous decision to quash the conviction.
Mr Gibson, who appeared in court via video link with an interpreter, is expected to be released from Casuarina prison later on Wednesday.
Outside court, lawyer Michael Lundberg said the team was very grateful to the court for accommodating the appeal hearing “in a speedy fashion” and for quickly deciding to acquit Mr Gibson, who he described as being very happy.
Mr Lundberg also noted the detailed reviews undertaken by the Corruption and Crime Commission and the Internal Affairs Unit of WA Police.
“Both of those reviews helped focus the spotlight on Gene’s case and his incarceration and they both provided the catalyst for the bringing of this appeal,” he said.
But Mr Lundberg said there were no winners in the case.
“He was 21 when he was arrested. He’s now almost 26. He has been away from his country for a long time and is keen to return and be with his family,” he said.
“There is also the reality that the life of another young man, Josh Warneke, came to an end in Broome seven years ago.
“Josh and Gene have never met but their lives are now intertwined.”
Mr Lundberg also acknowledged Mr Warneke’s mother, Ingrid Bishop, who has publicly supported Mr Gibson.
“(We) hope that in the future she obtains the justice she and her family deserve,” he said.
He said it was too early to talk about whether Mr Gibson would seek compensation.
The reasons for the judges’ decision will be published at a later date.