A 45-year-old man accused of conspiring to kill a key witness in a Wollongong murder case has failed in his bid for bail, despite his lawyer saying the almost four year wait for a trial was “improper” and “unacceptable”.
Police allege Stuart Cowan conspired with his incarcerated brother-in-law, Mark Jenkin, to have the female witness given a lethal overdose of heroin, known colloquially as a “hot shot”, to prevent her giving evidence against him (Jenkin) in the trial of slain Mangerton man Mark Dower.
Mr Dower’s decomposing body was found in a surfboard bag in the shared laundry of a NSW Housing unit complex on Crana Place about 11.50pm on April 16, 2015.
Jenkin was charged with Mr Dower’s murder. He has since been found guilty of manslaughter.
It is alleged while in custody awaiting trial, Jenkin spoke to Cowan on a contraband mobile phone about a woman who had given a statement to police implicating him in Mr Dower’s death.
The woman told officers Jenkin, who was known to intimidate and stand over people in the Mangerton area, was responsible for killing Mr Dower and she’d helped him dispose of the body out of fear of what he might do to her.
It is alleged Jenkin was recorded directing Cowan to murder the woman by giving her a “hot shot” and that Cowan agreed to carry out that direction and began preparing for it.
Several witnesses are expected to give evidence at Cowan’s rial that he approached them in August 2015 asking the whereabout of the woman before speaking with a known drug dealer about purchasing heroin.
Cowan was arrested on November 3, 2015 and charged with conspiracy to murder.
He has been in custody ever since, with his barrister, Ronald Driels, telling Wollongong District Court on Friday that the case had been subject to multiple, unexpected delays, and was now scheduled for August 2019.
“A further nine months [from now] will bring the time my client has spent in custody awaiting trial to almost four years,” Mr Driels said.
“The simple position is four years is too long….it’s improper in our system of justice, which has a presumption of innocence until proven guilty.”
Mr Driels said Cowan continued to deny the allegations against him and would likely argue at trial that he made no agreement with Jenkin and any actions he did perform were done under “duress” and out of fear of Jenkin.
Mr Driels said a man named Greg Gibson had agreed to have Cowan at his home on the NSW Central Coast.
The court heard Mr Gibson had a minor criminal history but was currently on court bonds for domestic violence matters.
The prosecution opposed Cowan’s bail application out of fear for the safety of witnesses, including the woman who was the intended target of the alleged murder conspiracy.
The lead officer on the case, Detective Shawn Adams, told the court prison records showed Mr Gibson and Cowan had spoken on the phone only five times between March 2015 and April 2018, with the calls lasting less than 12 minutes in total.
He also said prison visitor logs revealed Gibson had never gone to see Cowan in jail.
In refusing bail, Judge Andrew Haesler said the case against Cowan appeared a strong one on face value and if convicted, Cowan would likely spend a considerable period behind bars.
He also rejected Mr Gibson as a suitable person with whom Cowan could live.
“I accept Mr Gibson’s offer as genuine, but he himself is no stranger to the law and is on conditional liberty himself,” Judge Haesler said.
“Given Mr Cowan’s past behaviour of failing to appear in court, the allegations against him and his jail record, I have no confidence that he will not commit any further offences if released.
“Bail must be refused.”