• Fennell on the day he was arrested.
Junk mail deliverer, Steven John Mark Fennell, has been found guilty of the murder of Macleay Island grandmother, Liselotte Watson.
He has been sentenced to life imprisonment by Justice Martin Daubney in the Queensland Supreme Court at the end of a three week trial.
Fennell had pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the murder, and evidence was ‘circumstantial’ given that no DNA evidence was available.
That evidence, however, was overwhelmingly accepted by the jury of nine men and three women coming up with the guilty verdict after two days of deliberation.
Evidence was provided by way of extensive police information; the appearances of more than 60 witnesses; and the playing of a six-hour interview with Fennell by police that was recorded just after her lifeless body was was found in a pool of blood in the bedroom of her Alistair Court home on November 13, 2012.
The defence case was based on the lack of DNA evidence, but the jury was convinced by the circumstantial case put by the prosecution, led by prosecutor Glen Cash.
At the start of the trial he stated: “There is no direct evidence; no one saw the murder; it is a circumstantial case. Do not be alarmed by that term. It is the accumulation of circumstances that make this case compelling.”
As it turned out to be.
In sentencing Fennell, who at times through his various appearances leading to the trial had been outspoken and belligerent, trial justice Daubney was damning in his comments.
“It is bad enough that you were betraying her trust by using her money to fund your gambling habit, but to have killed her in such a cruel and callous way bespeaks a base wickedness which is fully deserving of the sentence I am about to impose.”
After sentencing Fennell to life in prison, Justice Daubney said the 1103 days he had spent in custody would be declared time already served. The mandatory life sentence in Queensland for murder is 20 years, with the full sentence to be served before parole is eligible. Fennell will have to serve another 17 years before he is eligible for parole.
Outside court, Fennell’s lawyer ,Michael Gatenby, said Fennell had given instructions to appeal the conviction.
That means we may have to go through some of this again, although a jury will not be involved. The court does not hear entire cases or have a jury, and deals only with the subject of the appeal.
It is made up of three or five judges of the Supreme Court who consider the grounds of the appeal and make a judgment.
Evidence presented to the jury included records of money misappropriated from Liselotte Watson’s account in the amount of $24,000; evidence of his gambling habit; his poor record with his family with money and gambling; the frequency at which he visited Liselotte’s home in Alistair Court and his known visits to the house in the time after Liselotte Watson was known to have been killed and the time Fennell raised his ‘concerns’ with Macleay Island police; and the brutal manner in which Fennell murdered the 85-year-old with up to six heavy blows to the head using a hammer.
The court also heard the unusual story of a call being made to Fennell just days prior to the murder. He told the caller” I can’t speak with you right now. I am washing the hair of an old lady. She is in the bath.”
The relief on the islands at the decision has been palpable.
The national media have descended on Macleay Island for a second time with many locals giving interviews. The overall reaction has been one of ‘relief’ that Fennell has been convicted, many stating it was ‘the right decision’.
The full extent of Fennell’s criminal past has also since been revealed involving fraud and assault and previous prison terms.
There are other factors, however, that have had a huge impact as a result of Fennell’s actions.
Particularly in relation to Liselotte Watson’s family.
Her reclusive daughter, Helen, tragically died just weeks after the murder.
Just days before her death, Helen rang the Friendly Bay Islander to thank us for the reporting of the arrest of Fennell and an article we featured titled: Anatomy of a Murder.
At the time, we only mentioned part of what she said because of the implications it might have had on a future trial - now completed.
What we did not report her saying at that time was her opinion and feelings about Fennell.
She told the Friendly Bay Islander she ‘did not like Fennell’ and she believed he was ‘stealing’ from her mother.
She also said she was at her ‘wit’s end’ and she was also afraid that Fennell was ‘bullying’ her mother.
She said she was also being ‘harassed’ by another person on Macleay Island, Tim Barker.
Tragically, just a couple of days later, Helen Watson died from an apparent heart attack.
A known recluse, her call to us was brave in the extreme.
To say she was ‘highly stressed’, is an understatement.
Granddaughter Emma Watson has been left with a tragic legacy and is the final victim in this scenario. She has literally gone to ground since giving evidence at the trial, and who can blame her.
Right through this long process there have been a small cluster of people who believed Fennell to be innocent, some going overboard in their efforts to interfere and influence the police investigation.
Tim Barker (mentioned previously) of Williams Street, Macleay Island (no relation to the island mechanic) was the person who attacked the national media when they first came to the island in November 2012.
In an amazing outburst outside the Blue Parrot Cafe he hurled abuse at them and told the collective media to ‘get off our island’.
Such was the verbal attack, staff from a nearby real estate office ‘apologised’ to the collective media group.
At the time of Fennell’s arrest, Barker stood guard over the police vehicle waiting to transport Fennell to the mainland and bleated: “He doesn’t want his photo taken. He is still a member of our community.”
Recently, Barker went even further, placing on Facebook this rant: “Just sent this to Nine News. Anybody else remember their shabby treatment? I am one of the Prime witnesses for the trial, being the last person to see Lisa alive. I was also a friend of Steven, as he delivered my newspaper, Bay Island News on Macleay for me. I am going to court on Friday. Hopefully I WON'T see you there. I remember only too well your poor reporting on our Islands. You DO NOT have permission to film or photograph me on Friday in any way shape or form. This is an official notification. What goes around comes around.”
[The Bay Island News went into liquidation in November, 2013]
Another islander, Wally Crook, was also busy. He approached several island people and asked them to provide ‘character references’ for Fennell.
At the recent trial, another island person, Sharon Ward, was seen to be taking notes throughout the trial. Fennell was at the Spar Supermarket (then owned by Ward} when he was arrested.
The whole saga has been a massive drain on the islands and everyone involved.
The investigating police deserve some recognition, starting with former Macleay Island Police Sergeant Dave McDougall, and Detective Sergeant Justin Suffolk and the huge police team.
• THANK YOU - The Friendly Bay Islander wishes to thank Tessa Hardy and Darren Curtis of Nine News; Louise Rebetz the ABC; and Kate Kyriacou of the Courier Mail for their help and support throughout this difficult process.