Sadly, Fred McDermott will never know he was finally acquitted of his conviction for a ghastly crime he did not commit.
The Inverell shearer would have walked free from a court in Sydney yesterday with an apology for a grave injustice had he been alive.
But his death in 1977 would have been the final chapter in this intriguing case had it not been for the dogged determination of his family and a barrister who sought to have justice prevail.
Yesterday’s acquittal, 60 years after Mr McDermott was found guilty of the killing of a farmer near Grenfell, was the long-awaited outcome his cousin Betty Sheelah of Armidale had fought so long to see.
While it was an emotional day for her, it was also a day for a new episode in legal history. Mr McDermott became the first Australian ever to be acquitted of murder after death.
Was this a waste of the court’s time, considering the age of the case and the fact the accused had been released from jail after a royal commission in 1952 concluded there were too many doubts about the evidence which had been used to convict him?
Fred McDermott professed his innocence throughout the rest of his life, yet had to live with the stigma that he may have been a killer. The outcome of the royal commission would not have convinced everyone, plus his conviction for the death was never overturned.
It no doubt tormented him throughout his life and also impacted on the life he lived.
There is no one to thank Betty Sheelah for her actions which convinced barrister Tom Molomby, SC, to investigate the case, write a book on the subject, and to take the matter to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal.
But she deserves thanks for ensuring an innocent man received the outcome he deserved.
It is never too late to overturn a significant miscarriage of justice which had haunted one man and his family for so long.