Tuesday, 13 February 2007

'Ryan was innocent': lawyer

In our piece on the 40th anniversary of Ronald Ryan's hanging, we noted that his lawyer had always claimed he was innocent, a view rejected again last week by his biographer.

Mike Richards, author of The Hanged Man: The Life and Death of Ronald Ryan, said the condemned man confessed to the Pentridge prison governor the night before he was executed.
A reader has drawn our attention to a 2002 letter by defence barrister Phillip Opas detailing the final steps in his efforts to save his client's life

"I will go to my grave firmly of the opinion that Ronald Ryan did not commit murder," he wrote.

"I refuse to believe that at any time he told anyone that he did. When all hope of a reprieve had gone and he had decided that he might as well declare his guilt (if that was the fact) there are two people whom I believe he would have told and they were Father Brosnan and me.
"Father Brosnan and I have formed a lifelong friendship since the hanging, and Father has told me that Ryan never made any admission of guilt to him," Opas wrote.

He said Ryan "always vehemently denied" that he had shot and killed prison warder George Hodson.

While he planned a final appeal to the Privy Council, he believed it would ultimately fail but it would buy "time to create a groundswell of public opinion that would prevent the government from carrying out its declared intention of executing him".

According to Opus, Ryan replied: "We've all got to go some time, but I don't want to go this way for something I didn't do."
"Then he smiled and added, "You know, mate, we're playing time on. If you don't kick a goal soon, we're going to lose this match," Opus wrote.
It was the last time he saw his client.
Contesting the fatal shot
In the letter, Opus outlined the basis for his opinion that "not only did he not fire a shot, but that he could not have fired the shot that killed the warder".
It detailed facts which Dr Opas said "could neither lie nor be mistaken", including:
  • witnesses claiming to have seen Ryan's shoulder jerk back and smoke coming from the barrel of the gun, when in fact that type of rifle had no recoil and it contained smokeless cartridges
  • the lack of any forensic evidence that the gun was ever fired when it was in Ryan's possession
  • a call Opas received a few years after the hanging, claiming that a prison officer had found the ninth round from Ryan's gun, which the caller claimed was dropped in the tower. The anonymous caller said the prison officer was forced by superiors to change his statement to omit all reference to the bullets, after he was threatened with a charge of "conspiring with the prisoners to help the escape"
  • calculations that Ryan could not have shot Hodson at the downwards angle indicated by his entry and exit wounds, contrasted with
  • statements that another prisoner officer had taken aim at Ryan while standing on a low stone wall in front of the jail, but pulled the gun up as he fired, a move which could have seen Hodson shot from the correct angle.
Dr Opas concluded: "Ryan was the unfortunate victim of the Premier's determination to have a hanging."

"I will always be troubled by the feeling that Ryan should have been acquitted and that I must have been inadequate for the task of defending him," he wrote.

Letter published: Victorian Bar News, Issue No: 122, Spring Edition 2002, 1/09/2002

(Anon, thanks for the tip.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Book author Richards claims Ryan confessed to the prison governor?
Why didn't the governor say so before his death back in 1992? I mean, the governor had more than 20 years to publicise Ryan's confession. Why would Ryan confess to a prison governor and not to his lawyer? And, why would it take 40 years to release this very important mind-blowing amazing alleged cofession?

Something doesn't add up!

I hope no person writes a biography about me and my associates four decades after we have all died, because we won't be in a position to respond to any alleged scandal.