Just another little murder
Reviewed in the Sydney Morning Herald
In 1963, Peter Keogh was 15 when he was shot in both knees during
a crazed knife attack on a Melbourne policeman. His defence of not
knowing what he was doing because of drunkenness was accepted in
the Victorian Supreme Court and he beat an attempted murder charge.
Justice Monahan exhorted Keogh to "go around with a song in
your heart rather than a dagger in your belt".
In this passionate book, Phil Cleary, former independent federal
MP and Victorian football star player, details how completely Keogh
failed to heed that advice. The bloody song of Keogh's life included
assault, child rape, arson and the stabbing killing of Cleary's
younger sister, Vicki, in 1987. It ceased when Keogh committed suicide
in 2001. Apart from Keogh, the source of the anger so evident in
Cleary's take-no-prisoners narrative is those involved in the criminal
justice system whom Cleary believes are too ready to excuse male
violence and unwilling to call a spade a spade and a murderer a
murderer. Cleary's belief that Keogh was unjustly acquitted of the
murder of his sister is profound.
Readers may find the first half of this often angry and abrasive
narrative a little confusing as Cleary jumps back and forth over
events in Keogh's life. But the more measured second half rewards
persistence and some stark facts emerge. During his 1989 trial Keogh
claimed he merely intended to damage Vicki Cleary's car on the morning
he waited for her arrival outside the suburban Melbourne kindergarten
where she worked. This, he said, was why he was carrying a roll
of masking tape, a Stanley knife and a 30-centimetre kitchen knife
in a cardboard sheath under his yellow overalls.
Justice George Hampel allowed the defence of provocation to go
to the jury on the basis of Keogh's evidence that Vicki told him
to "fuck off" and that she did not want to speak to him.
From that moment, Keogh claimed, his mind went blank. Psychiatric
evidence was led to support the loss of self-control necessary for
Cleary's moving book raises serious questions about the defence
of provocation and whether it should have been left to the jury
in Keogh's trial, given his violent past. The defence of provocation
can have a brutal effect on the friends and family of the victims
of violent crime. It is supposed to be a limited concession to a
certain type of human frailty, but was never designed to give the
unusually pugnacious a licence to kill.
Christopher O'Donnell is a Sydney barrister.