By WAYNE FLOWER, MELBOURNE CORRESPONDENT
- Jason Roberts was ordered a re-trial over two alleged murders in 1998
- He was jailed for shooting dead Sgt Gary Silk and Snr Constable Rodney Miller
- Roberts was convicted in 2003 but has been on trial for a second time
- Bandali Debs, who was found guilty of the murders, had given evidence in trial
- Roberts also took to the witness box to deny any role in the double murders
- Former homicide squad detective cast doubt on statements that led to his arrest
Alleged cop killer Jason Roberts has walked free from custody 22 years after being wrongly convicted of the murder of two police officers.
Roberts walked free from the Supreme Court of Victoria on Monday after being acquitted of the double murders.
Dressed in a grey suit and glasses, Roberts stopped traffic along Lonsdale Street as a media pack pursued him across the road to his barrister’s office.
He made no comment as he took his first steps of freedom.
Roberts walked free after an epic retrial that was sparked by allegations of police meddling.
Roberts, now aged 41, had originally been convicted of the murders of Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller, who were shot dead in Melbourne in August 1998.
He was granted a retrial when ex-homicide squad detective Ron Iddles was handed an original statement – buried for 19 years – that showed police had omitted crucial evidence in their original case against him.
That statement had been uncovered by grizzled Melbourne crime reporter Anthony Dowsley, who earned a smile by Roberts outside court today.
Jason Roberts walks free from the Supreme Court of Victoria after being found not guilty of two murders
Jason Roberts cracks a smile as Herald Sun reporter Anthony Dowsley (left) – the man who found the missing statement that eventually set him free – asks a question, which he ignored
Sergeant Gary Silk (left) and Senior Constable Rodney Miller (right) were killed while on duty, investigating a series of robberies in the Melbourne suburb of Moorabbin
Former homicide squad detective Ron Iddles discovered police had omitted the original statement made by the last cop to speak to a dying Rodney Miller
The jury had retired to consider its verdict on Thursday afternoon and had sat through the weekend pondering its decision.
It came at 10am on Monday, finally putting an end to one of Melbourne’s most chilling crimes.
VICTORIA POLICE STATEMENT ON SHOCK VERDICT
Chief Commissioner Shane Patton paid tribute to the two officers killed by Bandali Debs, but made no mention of Jason Roberts on Monday.
‘The murders of Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rod Miller in 1998 had an enormous impact on Victoria Police as an organisation, and were devastating for the families, friends and colleagues of both men,’ he said.
‘Our thoughts are with the Silk and Miller families today and we know this will be a difficult time for them.
‘We will continue to support both families as well as the many police who continue to be impacted by the tragic loss of Gary Silk and Rod Miller.
‘This matter has been subject to a significant investigation over the years and we recognise the tireless work of those investigators, including Lorimer Taskforce.’
Roberts’ conviction will come as a shock to the families, friends and colleagues of the fallen officers, who had argued the killer ought never have been granted a retrial in the first place.
It had been granted by the Court of Appeal after Mr Iddles found in 2015 the original statement made by one of the last officers to speak to the dying Miller that night was never included in the brief of evidence used to convict Roberts.
Instead, a second amended statement taken at a later date was used as if the previous one didn’t exist.
That omission was enough to grant Roberts a retrial and sparked the marathon trial.
The shock verdict is likely to see Roberts launch a massive legal claim against Victoria Police, whose dealings with dodgy lawyer Nicola Gobbo – aka Lawyer X – saw Faruk Orman released from jail in 2019 after serving 12 years of a 20-year sentence for the of Victor Peirce.
Roberts, along with Bandali Debs, was found guilty of murder by a jury in 2002, but Roberts had always maintained his innocence.
He had been aged just 17 on the night the officers were shot dead and claims he was not even there.
Last month, Mr Iddles, who provided his evidence on behalf of Roberts’ defence, was the last of almost 90 witnesses called in the Supreme Court of Victoria retrial that kicked-off back on March 23.
Officers Silk and Miller had been investigating a series of 10 robberies at outer suburban restaurants and were patrolling a potential target just after midnight on the night they would die.
The pair had been staking out the Silky Emperor Chinese restaurant on Cochranes Road in Moorabbin, 15km southeast of Melbourne’s CBD, when they pulled over what police allege was Roberts and Debs.
When officer Glenn Pullin, who has since left Victoria Police, arrived at the scene, Sergeant Miller was still clinging to life and provided the only eye witness account of what had happened.
‘He was in a lot of pain, he was conscious, he was asking for help,’ Mr Pullin told the jury in April.
The jury heard Sergeant Miller told Mr Pullin one offender had fled on foot.
Jason Roberts walks free from the Supreme Court of Victoria followed by a media pack
Jason Roberts (pictured with his girlfriend) has always maintained his innocence but has spent more than 20 years in prison
SHOCK ADMISSION COP MADE TO CORRUPTION WATCHDOG
In 2019, Glenn Pullin was asked by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission what he would do if asked by someone from the Homicide Squad to change his statement.
‘Some of the other squads, you know, maybe not. Like if the Fraud Squad rang up and said, “you know, you’re missing a detail” or something like that, it would be, “Oh, who gives a sh*t?” Mr Pullin responded.
‘But the Homicide Squad, you know, you don’t want to be the guy standing in court with your, you know – “You’re the guy – you’re the reason why this homicide fell over because you wouldn’t change your statement,”.’
In April, Mr Pullin told the Roberts jury he did not change his statement simply because he was asked to by the Homicide Squad.
Mr Pullin said he could not be sure how long the conversation lasted.
‘It could seem three or four minutes, it could be 30 seconds, you know, it’s a bit like, I suppose, a car crash, you see everything seems longer than what it is sometimes,’ he said.
The officer made his first statement at 4.45am that morning.
It read: ‘I heard him say that there was one male offender on foot and I also heard someone mention a small dark coloured car possibly being a Hyundai.’
But the jury heard Mr Pullin would later agree to amend that statement to make it clear Sergeant Miller had referred to two offenders, not one.
That second statement, which was previously used to convict Roberts, was taken by a more senior officer, George Buchhorn, sometime after the murders.
The new statement included a line: ‘Were they on car or on foot?’
It would later be entered into the brief of evidence against Roberts backdated to the day of Mr Pullin’s first statement, and sworn by him under oath that it was true and correct.
‘George told me the second statement was needed so as to make all things fit,’ Mr Pullin told Mr Iddles when questioned by him in 2015.
‘I’m not sure if the statement was already prepared for me in advance or I made my second statement to George Buchhorn.’
A young Bandali Debs, who police and the courts have no doubt murdered Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller
Bandali Debs (pictured) was convicted of the cop killings. Police allege Jason Roberts was also involved
The court heard Mr Pullin had told a preliminary committal hearing into the Roberts trial in 2001 and a 2019 Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission hearing that he couldn’t actually remember how many people the dying officer had spoken of.
‘When I was called to give evidence at the committal I asked George Buchhorn about my first statement. He told me only my second statement made it onto the brief, and not to mention the fact I had made the first statement,’ Mr Pullin told Mr Iddles.
Before the jury, Mr Pullin accepted it was possible he had provided false evidence at Roberts’ earlier hearing.
‘I don’t believe I did, no… Anything’s possible. Unlikely. Highly,’ Mr Pullin said.
The jury heard Roberts told Mr Iddles in 2013 he was with his then-girlfriend Nicole – Bandali Debs’ daughter – at the Debs’ home in Narre Warren when the shootings happened.
But Nicole Debs refused to give evidence in his latest trial to support those claims.
Instead, Roberts was forced to repeat that assertion in the witness box himself.
Roberts told the jury he went out to dinner with his girlfriend – who did not give evidence in the trial – to The Bear House restaurant in Cranbourne before going back to her house.
He claimed Debs had later tried to convince him to join him in casing out a few restaurants to rob, but he refused.
‘I had a couple of drinks with dinner and I had my 18th that was the following week,’ Roberts said.
While Roberts denies the murders, he has pleaded guilty to carrying out 10 armed robberies with Debs.
Roberts told the jury Debs had later told him he shot Senior Constable Miller after he asked him to open the boot of his car.
‘He said he was standing next to him and he shot him in the side of the chest,’ Roberts claimed.
‘He then went to Silk who was at the window and shot him twice.’
Silky Emperor Chinese Restaurant (around 2013 before it closed down), which the officers had been staking out on that fateful night
Jason Roberts during his first murder trial 20 long years ago – he has always maintained his innocence
The jury heard Roberts had admitted to telling all kinds of lies to police during their investigation.
His barrister, David Hallowes SC, told the jury the teenage Roberts had good reason to lie.
‘To admit the truth there, would not only need him to tell the police, Bandali Debs, the father of my girlfriend was the person who committed the murders, he’s told me that, but would also have required him to admit those 10 armed robberies,’ he told the jury last week.
Mr Hallowes said Debs had previously made admissions that he had acted alone.
In 2017, while caged in Goulburn Prison, in New South Wales, Debs allegedly told a lawyer working on Roberts’ case that he would only make a statement if he got something in return.
‘Bandali Debs said that he wouldn’t sign any document, refused to sign any document to that effect, unless and until he was back in Victoria,’ Mr Hallowes said.
Career crook William Prideaux also gave evidence suggesting Debs was the solitary shooter.
He told the jury he had been walking his dog in the area when he spotted Debs alone near the hatchback he used in the shootings.
Prideaux told the court he lied to police about what he had seen that night.
Officers who drove past Sergeant Silk and Senior Constable Miller minutes before they were shot also reported only seeing one person at the time.
HOW JASON ROBERTS CLAIMS BANDALI DEBS KILLED TWO COPS
‘He told me that he was pulled over, got out of the car, he was speaking to the officers. One had asked him what his name was. And ah, I believe he said whose car it was.’
‘Silk asked him for his name and whose car it was. And then he said that Rodney Miller had unclipped his holster.’
‘He said Silk went around to the rego, to look at the rego label.’
‘Miller asked him to look in the boot.’
‘He said he had stuff in the boot. So, he didn’t want to open it, so he said he made out that he couldn’t open it with the boot, and went back and got the keys. ‘
‘He’s put the keys in – he said as it was opening and you could see stuff in the back of that boot, he knew he was in bother – he said, and he shot Rodney Miller … in the side of the chest.’
‘He said once he shot him, he went – ah, to Silk, who was at the window. And shot him twice.’
‘And then he said he heard a bang from behind him. Rodney Miller he said shot, fired a shot, and then he went after him, and then he said a shootout started with him.’
‘(Debs) said that Rodney Miller was laying down like flat on the floor, and shot up, and it went through the hatch (rear windscreen).’
‘Rodney Miller ran up the road, and that (Debs) said he went after him, and then he said that he saw headlights, a car coming, and realised he couldn’t catch him and ah, went back.’
‘He said he shot Gary Silk, grabbed his book, because he said he had – at the car he had asked him his name and who’s car it was, picked it up. He said he shut the boot, drove off and left.’
Police march in their thousands behind the hearse carrying the body of Senior Constable Rod Miller in 1998
Colleagues carry Constable Rodney Miller’s coffin at the funeral service in 1998. Police lined the road for more than a kilometre to honour him in death
Floral tributes are seen at a memorial for two Victorian police officers killed in the line of duty 22 years ago. Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rod Miller were gunned down in Moorabbin in 1998. Police lined the streets for more than a kilometre to farewell them
BANDALI DEBS CLAIMS ROBERTS WAS WITH HIM AT SHOOTINGS
Appearing from his NSW jail, Roberts’ alleged partner in crime told the jury he was with him on the job that night.
Now aged 68, Debs had been captured on bugged recordings talking to his father about what had happened.
‘When we drove in just to quickly look. They seen us, they drove behind us and drove down the street to stop us,’ Debs is heard telling his father.
Asked in court about who he was referring to, Debs answered: ‘Jason Roberts and myself.’
Debs said he didn’t see how Sergeant Silk died.
‘I don’t know what Roberts did at the scene because I was not at Silk’s bloody scene,’ he said.
Debs told the jury Roberts had acted as a kind of pack-horse during their robberies, carrying the gear used to bound their victims.
‘The mule was with me. Roberts was there,’ Debs said.
In 2003, Debs was jailed for life with no chance of parole.
He was later found guilty of murdering Kristy Harty in the Dandenong Ranges in 1997 and murdering Donna Hicks in Sydney’s western suburbs in 1995.
In closing the prosecution case over four days last month, Crown prosecutor Ben Ihle QC branded Roberts a rotten liar.
‘He has told so many lies, to so many people in so many situations, that when he comes before you and says he’s telling the truth, you should be having serious, serious doubts,’ Mr Ihle said.
He told the jury it was Roberts who cold bloodedly fired a .38 calibre slug into the chest of Sergeant Silk from about two-metres away.
Sergeant Silk was then allegedly shot twice on the ground with a .357 Magnum – once in the head and hip.
His body was found still clutching at his chest from the initial gunshot wound when his colleagues arrived.
Experts found 11 shots were fired from three guns that night – one belonged to Senior Constable Miller who bravely fought for his life.
Critically injured, the prosecution claims the officer said: ‘Two, one on foot’ and, ‘Get them, I’m f***ed.’
Other officers at the scene had also claimed the dying officer made references to multiple shooters.
When the call went out that officers were down, those responding were advised to be on the hunt for two offenders.
Former sergeant Helen Poke was 200 metres away when the call for help came in and she arrived at the scene within 20 seconds.
She told the jury she had cradled Senior Constable Miller in her lap and reassured him.
Ms Poke said he repeated the same phrase over and over as if he had memorised it.
‘He kept the same order – get them, I’m f***ed, two offenders, one on foot, six foot, dark hair, checked shirt, dark Hyundai – and then we’d go back to the start,’ she said.
Bandali Debs after his 2000 arrest over the murders of two police officers. He has been in prison for 20 years
Jason Roberts during his 2003 murder trial – he was found guilty but has always maintained his innocence
Senior Constable Lou Gerardi drove at speeds of up to 150kmh to reach the scene in minutes.
‘I didn’t lift my foot until we got there,’ he told the jury.
Mr Gerardi held Senior Constable Miller’s hand as the dying officer told him ‘I’m f***ed’ and to ‘get them c***s’.
Both claimed their colleague referenced multiple offenders despite failing to use the term ‘offenders’ in their statements.
The jury heard Roberts and Debs would later discuss the shootings using plurals during conversations secretly recorded by police before their arrest.
‘The older one he just said, “We’re right”, and couldn’t give a f**k and f**king go home. The younger one, one got – wants to chase,’ police allege Roberts told Debs in one recording.
The pair allegedly discussed murdering the widow and infant child of Senior Constable Miller in an effort to throw the scent off them.
Mr Ihle told the jury the case against Roberts would come together like a ‘jigsaw puzzle’.
‘Looking at one piece will not give you the overall picture.
‘The picture only comes together when interaction between the pieces comes together,’ he said.
‘Might there be pieces of the puzzle missing at the end of the day? Sure, it was 22-years ago.
‘The overall evidence is more powerful than the sum of its parts.’
HOW PROSECUTORS SAY JASON ROBERTS KILLED A COP
Prosecutors claim Roberts was in the car when Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller followed his girlfriend’s vehicle out of the Silky Emperor Chinese restaurant on Cochranes Road in Moorabbin.
Sergeant Silk had his diary and pen in hand when it is alleged Roberts blasted him with his .38 calibre handgun.
Police believe Senior Constable Miller pulled his gun and was shot by Debs through the rear window.
The brave officer managed to fire four rounds back in defence before making a run for it.
After the wounded officer fled, police allege Debs returned to Sergeant Silk and finished him off.
While Roberts may not have fired the killing shots on either police officer, prosecutors say he aided and abetted Debs in the murders in a joint criminal enterprise.