Gregory Paul Johnston (centre) leaves court in Perth with his family on Friday. Picture: AAP image/Angie Raphael
Gregory Paul Johnston (centre) leaves court in Perth with his family on Friday. Picture: AAP image/Angie Raphael

Hung jury in farmer’s wife murder trial

THE jury has failed to reach a verdict in the trial of a farmer accused of murdering his wife by allegedly staging a fiery crash on their property before watching her burn to death.

His children are supporting him but the victim's family expect a retrial after the jury was dismissed when members were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Gregory Paul Johnston was accused of crashing Susi Elizabeth Johnston's car into a tree, then burning the 56-year-old alive in an alleged staged accident at their farm in Borden, Western Australia, on December 6, 2008.

The jury at the WA Supreme Court deliberated for more than three days but by Friday afternoon said theycould not reach a unanimous verdict, and were discharged. Justice Robert Mitchell said it would be up to the director of public prosecutions to determine whether a retrial would be pursued.

Mr Johnston was granted bail ahead of a status conference on April 18. Lawyer Carolyn Smiddy-Brown said Mr Johnston's family wished to thank the jury for their careful consideration of the case.

"They are very pleased that the jury was not prepared to convict their father," she told reporters outside court. "They are grateful that their father is returning to the farm and they will be remaining united."

Mrs Johnston's brother, Anton Rogers, spoke on behalf of siblings who attended the trial and those who were interstate. "Although the decision is disappointing, we would like to thank the police and the prosecution for their hard and thorough work over many years to pursue justice for Susi," he said. "We'll wait with bated breath for the future events ... we believe there will be a second trial."

Mr Rogers said the family had endured some "emotional moments" during the trial. "Susi was a loving and loyal mother and wife. She was a lovely person," he said.

The court heard during the trial that Mr Johnston repeatedly lied to police before he was finally charged a decade later.

Prosecutor Justin Whalley said Mr Johnston was the victim's sole financial beneficiary and also mistakenly believed she had taken out a life insurance policy days before her death.

Mr Johnston had been unfaithful and, days after his wife's death, transferred $15,000 into the bank account of a woman he had met online, then married her nine months later, the court heard.

But defence counsel Linda Black noted the lack of direct evidence in the circumstantial case, including any proof the fire was deliberately lit. She admitted Mr Johnston cheated on his wife of 25 years and lied to police, but insisted he was not a killer.

Ms Black also presented a possible theory that Ms Johnston wanted to kill herself.

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