When journalist Graham Archer first heard about the suspicious drowning of Adelaide lawyer Anna-Jane Cheney in her bathtub, he was working in Sydney as the Supervising Producer on Channel Nine’s Sunday program. At first glance Archer says he, like most others, believed the case was a clear-cut story of love, greed, sexual betrayal and murder. But after the conviction of accused murderer, Cheney’s fiancé Henry Keogh, Archer took much more than a cursory glance. Over the course of 13 years, he became convinced a miscarriage of justice had occurred. Unmaking a Murderer is Archer’s account of a personal odyssey into an intriguing murder case. From the book’s introduction, here he presents a snapshot of a monumental moment in the life of a man wrongfully jailed for 20 years.
23 August 1995
There’s a hush in the ornate courtroom. To one side of the room there’s some stirring. A door opens; in single file the jury shuffle in, five women and seven men. They are the 12 unremarkable peers of the accused, Henry Vincent Keogh. These are ordinary people obliged to make an extraordinary decision, here in the Supreme Court of South Australia. Is the man they are about to pass judgement on, a father of three, about to join the despised ranks of those convicted of murder? Some in the court may be trying to imagine what it feels like to hold the fate of another person in their hands; others may just want this to be over. Families on both sides are praying for an end to the agony. The large media contingent waits to tell the story that may have already taken shape in their heads. The jury retired at 12.03 pm. It is now 5.29 pm.
There seems something very primitive about a community ballot over the fate of one of its own. In a world where we split the atom, compute impossible equations, divide and replicate human cells with exquisite precision, justice is still dispensed by the unskilled. A conscripted gaggle of strangers assembled in some alien courtroom to arbitrate on matters they may have never previously contemplated. Then, without recorded reason, they cast their vote and leave.
Right now the impatience of all present is rewarded with the entry of the man at the centre of this drama. The man, the prosecution claimed, stood to gain over one million dollars in forged insurance policies from the death of his 29-year-old fiancée. Henry Keogh is pale-faced but handsome. His features are chiselled and lean; his hair is rich and jet black. He is a fit 40-year-old though he appears slightly stooped as he stands awkwardly next to his burly guard. Many of those present have already seen him either making the uncomfortable dash past the cameras to the court’s front doors, or seated in isolation within the glass box. After all, this is his second trial in the space of five months. What must he be feeling at this time of reckoning? Just like the image he has presented to the world throughout this ordeal, he is stoic and unreadable.
‘All rise.’ The command comes suddenly from the front of the court. The judge’s entry is brisk and businesslike. Justice Kevin Duggan nods to the court and sits down in one motion. Keogh holds his stance. The rest of the court sinks back to their benches. Justice Duggan turns to the jury and asks if there is a foreman. One rises to perform his solemn duty.
‘Have you arrived at a verdict?’
‘We have, your Honour.’
‘And is it unanimous?’
‘It is, your Honour.’
‘And what is it?’
‘We find the defendant… guilty!’
Things move very rapidly. The jury is dismissed with thanks and the judge quizzes the lawyers from both sides about sentencing. They busy themselves with their diaries. The verdict means a mandatory life term in prison so the discussion is largely a formality. His Honour remands Keogh in custody and immediately disappears from view through the black aperture from which he came.
Being ‘processed’ is not pleasant; in fact, nothing is pleasant from now until, well, forever. Keogh is now ‘theirs’. His minor possessions – watch, wallet, loose change – are taken from him, as well as his clothes. From this moment on he will not eat, sleep or tend to his own needs unless he is permitted to do so. Where he exists, and with whom, will be decided for him, and might change at any moment, day or night. Whatever status and power he had is erased. He will effectively disappear from sight and mind and no one, except for an ever-dwindling few, will care or think of him again.