Five years have passed since the horrific murder of Luke Willis, a former teacher at Hay Public School, and his brother, shot dead in cold blood in a Newcastle street on a quiet Sunday night.
But on Wednesday the parents of Luke and Sam Willis said they could finally start truly grieving and put behind them a draining legal process that has consumed their lives.
Their sons’ murderer Christopher Angelo Filippou had failed in his appeal to the High Court of Australia against his convictions of murder and sentence of 31 years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 25 years.
Nothing could change what Filippou had done, nothing could bring their sons back. But for Vicki and Will Willis it was a relief at least that all of the murderer’s legal avenues had been exhausted and that part of the ordeal was over.
‘‘[On Wednesday] the High Court of Australia dismissed a murderer’s appeal,’’ Vicki Willis said.
‘‘I can now put the legal process behind me, once and for all. Nothing can change what that man did to my sons.
‘‘No judgment can ease my suffering. It is a huge relief to know that my involvement with the court system is finished. I would like to thank the DPP and the judiciary for finding the truth among the lies.’’
Will Willis said having repeated appeals hanging over the family had prolonged their pain .
‘‘When you go through this your whole life is distorted and changed because of what happened,’’ he said. ‘‘The intensity of the legal process – and the last three months have been absolute hell – and the
murderer’s right to the system means, for me personally, you don’t really get the chance to start grieving until all this stuff is behind you.
‘‘You have so much energy that goes into dealing with the legal process in some ways you don’t have time to think about the boys, you do, but the legal process is just so dominating in your life.
‘‘It’s now finished and I hate the word closure, but now there is a sense the trauma of the legal process is finished and now it is our life again.’’
A former school cleaner, Filippou will remain behind bars until at least 2035. He will be 78 by the time he is eligible for release.
Filippou shot Luke, 28, a primary school teacher, and Sam, 22, a university student and youth worker, outside his Mayfield home on the night of June 27, 2010.
Filippou and Sam had shared a back fence. Luke had never met him until the night of the murders. But following months of anonymous harassment from Filippou and after discovering one of their windows had been smashed, the brothers confronted him at his house.
Following an argument, the pair were shot once each at close range before Filippou stood over Sam and shot him in the chest. He then put the gun in Sam’s hand and fled as police were being called.
The next day he turned himself in, claiming the brothers had brought the gun, which he then took away and shot them with. It is a claim the Willis family have repeatedly refuted.
Filippou later told police: ‘‘I’m f---ing proud of what I done. ‘‘F---ing proud of it’’. At his trial in October, 2011, Filippou pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation saying he had lost control before shooting the brothers.
But the judge who found him guilty, Justice Jane Matthews, rejected Filippou’s account, saying he simply acted out of anger. Justice Matthews said she was not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt who had produced the gun.
An appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal was rejected in 2013, after Filippou’s barrister Paul Rosser QC argued the judge had made a number of errors and that the evidence, particularly in regard to the sequence of shots fired from the .38 Smith and Wesson, was consistent with someone losing control.
The Court of Criminal Appeal dismissed those arguments and did not alter his 31-year jail term.
And on Wednesday, the High Court unanimously dismissed Filippou’s final appeal. Again there was no miscarriage of justice.
Wednesday was an emotional day for the Willis family, the five-year saga was over. And if not for Filippou it would have been a happy occasion. They would have been celebrating Luke’s 34th birthday.
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