Flaw and order: Judge suspects homicide detective lied to court in Pyliotis case
1st December 2022

By Richard Baker

Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth tested the evidence of the police officers who investigated the murder of Eliah Abdelmessih.

A senior Victorian judge said the detective leading the investigation into the 2005 murder of East Kew widower Eliah Abdelmessih may have been unwilling to back down from his “highly implausible” evidence because it could show he had perjured himself.

Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth’s increasing concern about the testimony of former Victorian homicide detective Warren Ryan, as well some of his other former colleagues, is a feature of episode six of The Confession, our chart-topping podcast series.

Justice Hollingworth was presiding over a three-day hearing in late 2020 after lawyers for Katia Pyliotis, the woman charged with the murder of Abdelmessih, applied for the court to take the extraordinary step of granting a permanent stay on the charge because of an abuse of process.

She released audio and video recordings of the cross-examination of the police officers for use in The Confession.

The catalyst for Pyliotis’ stay application was the belated discovery of Ryan’s 2005 police diary. Its contents failed to match his repeated testimony that the alternate suspect in Abdelmessih’s murder, Susan Reddie, had told him she had made up her confession to one of her carers.

Not only that, Ryan’s diary revealed that Reddie had actually directly confessed to him that she had repeatedly hit Abdelmessih around the head and body with a religious statue. Forensic tests revealed a statue of the Virgin Mary to be the main murder weapon.

Reddie’s DNA was not found on Abdelmessih’s body or objects at the crime scene. However, police lost a pair of blood stained sneakers seized from her at her supported accommodation in the Melbourne suburb of Kew before they could be tested for DNA.

Pyliotis was arrested and charged with Abdelmessih’s murder in 2016 after her DNA was matched to an unknown female sample found all over the crime scene.

Initially, she told police that she had never been to Abdelmessih’s house. But in prison telephone conversations with family members recorded by Corrections Victoria in 2016, Pyliotis told a confidante that Abdelmessih was already dead when she arrived at his house.

The reason Pyliotis was at the Egyptian-born widower’s house has never been revealed.

In the 2020 stay hearing cross-examinations, Justice Hollingworth grew increasingly frustrated by Ryan’s evidence, particularly how he could remember a supposed recantation of a confession by Reddie but not her direct confession of assaulting Abdelmessih as recorded in his police diary.

“He is now so adamant in his evidence, in his memory, he can’t back down from it. Because for him to back down would be to, I think in his mind, admit that he’s perjured himself,” she said.

Police officers Warren Ryan, Tim Argall and Wayne Newman, by now a superintendent, all gave evidence at Katia Pyliotis’ trials.

“Much of what he says just doesn’t appear true and objectively true. It’s highly, highly implausible … I frankly say it needs [a] lot of persuasion for you to persuade me that he’s not a liar.”

She said she did not believe the other police officers cross-examined were liars but was concerned about the selective nature of much of their evidence in that they seemed to remember things that suited the prosecution but nothing that helped Pyliotis’ defence.

Years after Eliah Abdelmessih was found dead, the unknown female DNA detected on this glove found at the murder scene was identified as a match to the DNA of Katia Pyliotis.

Justice Hollingworth was critical of former homicide detective Wayne Newman, who conducted both interviews with alternate suspect Susan Reddie in September 2005. Newman is now a superintendent.

“The next witness, the smirking superintendent, did not cover himself in glory. Whilst I wouldn’t find that he was dishonest, he was not an impressive witness,” she said.

What concerned Justice Hollingworth most was the speed with which many of the former homicide detectives, particularly superintendent Newman, seemed to rule out Reddie as a viable suspect despite her confession to her carer.

“I’m not being glib. What on Earth! Don’t you have an open mind about a murder investigation?,” she asked.

During his cross-examination, Ryan defended himself by saying he was being asked to remember events and conversations from 15 years ago and had not had access to his 2005 diary until recently.

Credit:The Age

Victoria Police said in a statement: “This was an extremely complex matter both forensically and in terms of the parties involved, and one that ultimately involved a person losing their life. The criminal investigation into the murder of Eliah Abdelmessih was significant and lengthy, and conducted over many years by a number of detectives from the homicide squad. Ultimately, on the occasion when this matter was put before a jury to make a decision, and they were permitted to go to verdict, a conviction was recorded.

“It is not factually accurate to contend that there was a failure to investigate Susan Reddie and thorough enquiries into her potential involvement continued after her comments to both the Yooralla staff and former DSC Ryan. This included investigations into her alibi, movements around the time of the murder, her cognitive and physical abilities to undertake the murder, as well as the assessment of forensic evidence.

“This alternate hypothesis was also examined in great and painstaking detail at each trial.”

The verdict and conviction referred to by Victoria Police were overturned on appeal.

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