Family defy Australian police
by 4WardEver UK
originally published 26th December 2006
Updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
On 12th June 1981, Eddie Murray, a 21-year-old Aboriginal footballer, was taken into Australian police custody in Wee Waa at around 2pm. By 3.30pm that day, he was pronounced dead.
He was found hanging in his cell by a piece of prison blanket, his knees slightly bent, and his feet touching the floor. An initial autopsy shortly after his death failed to identify all injuries sustained to his body and was later described by expert pathologists as unreliable. Subsequent police inquests neglected to call key witnesses to give evidence. Police claimed Eddie committed suicide. Early medical evidence showed that Eddie’s blood alcohol level at the time of his death.
The Coroner recorded an open verdict on the death in Wee Waa cells. He concluded that the cause of death was by hanging, at the hand of “person or persons unknown.” He said there was no evidence that Eddie Murray took his own life.
Eddie had been taken to police cells by police using their ‘discretion’ under the Intoxicated Persons Act (1979). If the purposes of the Act were to minimalize drunkenness and to protect the intoxicated person, why did Eddie die locked in a cell, like a convicted criminal?
Eddie Murray’s death was one of the first cases to be investigated by the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody in 1988. Although the Commission was critical of police evidence, it concluded there was no basis for a finding of police culpability in what was assumed to be suicide.
The 1st Edition of Too Much Wrong – A Report into the Death of Eddie Murray, was released in 1997. The report was critical of the way in which the Royal Commission was conducted and recommended that the body be exhumed for further investigation.
A second autopsy found significant injury to the sternum. Acting for the Murray family, Barrister Robert Cavanagh says that had this injury been identified, more investigation and the calling of further witnesses would have occurred.
In releasing his updated report, Mr Cavanagh said, “We want further medical experts to examine the injury and its possible causes. We are also calling for further analysis of the evidence taken at the Inquests and Royal Commission Hearings, and further questioning of witnesses as appropriate.”
Awkward questions about how this young man died continue to recur amidst questions about whether he could have hanged himself. In 2006 the family led calls for the case to be officially reopened.
Family calls for Eddie Murray case to be reopened
19th April 2006
Philippa McDonald reports
LEILA MURRAY: We want to know what happened to our son. Out of 12 kids, you still miss one out of them, I tell you. I don’t care how bad they are, mate, you still miss your kids. I know I do.
PHILIPPA McDONALD: Not a day goes by without Arthur and Leila Murray thinking of their son Eddie.
ARTHUR MURRAY: He was supposed to be a first-grade footballer. He achieved that in a way when he played for the All Blacks at Red Field. He was offered a chance to go over to New Zealand with the Aboriginal All Blacks. But his death denied him of that.
PHILIPPA McDONALD: Back in 1981, their 21-year-old son, Eddie Murray, was out drinking with male family members in their home town of Wee Waa in north-west NSW. Eddie was celebrating his up-coming football trip, but got so drunk he was asked to leave the local pub and police locked him up in the station’s cell.
ARTHUR MURRAY: They could have brought him home. We only live just up the road.
PHILIPPA McDONALD: Why don’t you think the police took him home to your place, if you were so close by?
ARTHUR MURRAY: Well, that’s a good question. We are also asking that question. Why didn’t they bring him home? There was no need whatsoever to detain him and lock him in the cell.
PHILIPPA McDONALD: Just over an hour after being placed in custody, Eddie Murray was dead. He was found by station officers, hanging from the cell’s bars.
ARTHUR MURRAY: They didn’t worry. They didn’t think that we would pursue it further, which we did.
LEILA MURRAY: I think the police got a shock when we wanted an investigation into our son’s death, because we knew that our son wouldn’t take his own life.
PHILIPPA McDONALD: It’s been a long fight for answers for Leila and Arthur Murray.
Unhappy with the coroner’s open finding, they left Wee Waa and campaigned in earnest for a royal commission into black deaths in custody.
But they believe even a royal commission failed to answer their questions. So determined in their quest, the Murray’s went against Aboriginal tradition and 16 years after Eddie’s death, his remains were exhumed. It seemed finally the Murray’s had a breakthrough. The exhumation delivered startling new evidence.