A man who has spent almost 40 years in prison in South Australia for a murder he says he did not commit will soon make a final bid for freedom.
Derek Bromley was jailed for life for the murder of Stephen Docoza, whose body was found floating in Adelaide’s River Torrens in 1984.
Bromley has been eligible for parole since 2017, but his application was denied as he will not accept he committed the crime. A co-offender was released on parole in 2004.
Under South Australia’s right to appeal laws, which came into effect in 2013, Bromley was able to challenge his conviction, despite having previously had court of criminal appeal and high court bids rejected.
But the court of criminal appeal rejected his application for a new appeal in March 2018.
Lawyers for Bromley confirmed to Guardian Australia that an application for special leave to appeal the 2018 ruling to the high court is expected to be filed within weeks. The application, if accepted, is likely to be heard before the end of the year.
It is almost certainly the last chance Bromley will have to appeal his conviction, according to legal academic Bob Moles, who has extensively researched the case.
In his 2018 application, Bromley questioned the evidence of forensic pathologist Dr Colin Manock, whose reliability had been challenged in previous cases.
Bromley also argued that an eyewitness who provided direct evidence against him should be considered unreliable as he was suffering a schizoaffective disorder at the time of the incident, which left him with hallucinations including seeing a devil. The witness was hospitalised for several months to receive treatment on the same day he reported seeing Bromley.
Moles has researched several cases involving Manock, including that of Henry Keogh, who was jailed for the murder of his fiancee but later released after the court of criminal appeal found Manock’s evidence to be flawed.
In Bromley’s case, Manock gave evidence that Docoza was injured before his death and drowned. But according to Bromley’s 2018 application other experts dispute this, saying the cause of death cannot be determined and that the injuries may have been caused after Docoza died.
The court of criminal appeal dismissed the application as lacking compelling new evidence. It made no findings in relation to the competency of Manock.
Manock could not be reached for comment.
It is believed he has not publicly commented before on the Bromley case, but he has spoken about other deaths he investigated during the almost three decades he spent as the state’s chief forensic pathologist.
When questioned about his investigations into the deaths of three babies – which he found died of natural causes but whose deaths are now being investigated as homicides – Manock said he made mistakes because of the “hectic” nature of his work.
Moles believes cases such as Bromley’s show why Australia needs a criminal cases review commission.
Moles and Bibi Sangha, who are both Flinders University adjunct associate professors, were recently invited to contribute to the Canadian government’s consultation on the establishment of an independent body to review wrongful convictions.
The lawyers helped to establish right to appeal laws in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, but Moles said a national criminal cases review commission should be founded to accompany them.
“[The Canadian experience] provided us the opportunity to reflect on Australia’s own progress with wrongful convictions and realise in certain jurisdictions we’re still very behind,” he said.
“In some states there are people languishing in jail for crimes they didn’t do and with no possible recourse to get themselves out.”
The commission would have been able to investigate Bromley’s case by viewing records held by the prosecution, Moles said, meaning concerns about Manock’s evidence and the eyewitness might have been uncovered earlier.
Current right to appeal laws only benefit those with strong legal challenges, he said, and often could not be made out because of issues with disclosure from the prosecution.
Moles said it was a misconception that advocates for independent review commissions were solely motivated by freeing the wrongfully convicted; such commissions can also ensure justice for the victims of crime.
“The way to set up the perfect crime would be to make sure somebody else can be convicted for it, because if it’s an unsolved crime, you have to constantly look over your shoulder,” he said.
“A criminal cases review commission would look at, ‘Well, who actually did it?’
“A miscarriage of justice applies equally: someone has committed a crime and not been held accountable for it. We’re not bleeding hearts here.”