Anna Marshall - 7 June 2010
On 4th March 2006, Claire Margaret McDonald gasped and burst into tears as a Victorian Supreme Court jury found her not guilty of the execution style murder of her husband, Warren John McDonald.
The court was told that McDonald had donned camouflage gear and lay in wait with a high-powered rifle for her husband to approach. She fired six shots, mortally wounding her husband.
McDonald successfully used the "battered woman syndrome" defence, claiming she had suffered years of abuse at the hands of her husband.
Within days, Queensland woman, Susan Falls, having probably read the media reports of Heather McDonald's stunning acquittal, decided to execute her allegedly abusive husband in the same fashion, in what prosecutors would describe as a cunning, calculated murder.
Falls paid a friend, Anthony Cummings-Creed $5,000 to buy a 22.calibre pistol with silencer on the black market.
Rodney and Susan Falls
Christopher Cummins-Creed supplied the pistol with silencer
Susan Falls arriving at court
Susan Falls leaving court after acquittal
On May 26, 2006 while her husband Rodney Falls was drinking at his pub, she made him a dish of curried prawns for his dinner, knowing that their children would not eat any of the dish. Falls crushed up a number of sleeping tablets and laced the prawns with the mixture, assuming that the curry would mask the taste of the sleeping tablets.
Following the meal, her husband became drowsy and fell asleep in his recliner.
Falls walked up to her husband, and in front of her two girls, placed the pistol against his temple and fired. She told the court she could see the burn mark and smoke coming from the hole in his head. She waited two hours, and not sure her husband was dead, placed the pistol under his jaw and fired another shot.
After leaving the body in the house for three days, Falls called on Cummings-Creed and two other accomplices, Bradley James Coupe, 25 and Anthony James Hoare, 42, to help her clean the crime scene and dispose of the body. Rodney Falls body was dumped in the Mapleton State Forest.
Mr Falls, 41, who worked from the couple's Caloundra home buying and selling on the internet, was the focus of an intense police search after his wife first reported him missing on June 2 then made a tearful public plea for information.
Mr Falls's body was later retrieved from dense bushland in Mapleton State Forest on June 25.
His family said after the trial that Mr Falls's death appeared to be "senseless . . . and a complete waste of an . . . all-round good person".
"He will always be remembered by all of us as a happy, loving person who loved nothing better than to have a drink and a laugh with his family and friends," they said.
Mrs Van Donselaar said her son had always been close to his family, especially his grandmother, and had left school before he was 15 but worked hard with his uncle to obtain his air conditioning, refrigerator and electrical licences.
"Being a very ambitious man, he then went on to obtain his builder's licence, building homes in Blacktown, Pelican Waters and Caloundra, where he lived for the last 10 years," she said.
"He met and married the girl next door and three beautiful girls followed in four years, then 10 years later the gift of his precious baby boy."
Mr Falls's sister Kim Page said the last time she spoke to her brother they were both excited about the prospect of her family moving to Caloundra later this year.
"Now all of our hopes and dreams for our future have been shattered. Our family will never be the same without Rodney."
In an amazing summing up, the judge appeared to be instructing the jury that it was OK for Susan Falls to murder her allegedly abusive husband. Supreme Court Justice Peter Applegarth said that while some witnesses had given evidence that they had not seen bruises on Mrs Falls in recent years, victims of domestic violence did not normally parade their injuries.
Justice Applegarth told jurors Mrs Falls' defence lawyers did not have to prove she was acting in self defence when she shot and killed Rodney Falls, but rather the prosecution must prove she wasn't acting in self defence at the time.
Justice Applegarth appeared to instruct the jury that notwithstanding Rodney Falls may have ceased abusing his wife after a separation in 2000, Susan Falls had a licence to kill him for his previous abuse.
Following the judge's summing up, the jurors, not surprisingly, took only 90 minutes to find Falls not guilty of murder and also not guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. Her accomplices were found not guilty of the charge of accessory to murder.
Incedibly, the jury also found Christopher Anthony Cumming-Creed, Bradley James Coupe, and Anthony James Hoare, not guilty of being accessories to Mr Falls’ murder, notwithstanding that they assisted Falls in disposing of her husband's body.
Why didn't Susan Falls resort to a legal remedy?
The question remains: if Falls had the presence of mind and the planning skills to acquire a pistol with silencer, to lace her husband's meal with sleeping pills, to walk up to him and place a pistol to head and shoot, to fire another shot two hours later and to use co-conspirators to dispose of the body, why didn't she have the presence of mind to avail herself of one of the myriad of legal resources to deal with the problem?
For instance, with her planning skills she could worked with with her accomplices to install hidden cameras around the house. If her husband he was beating her as alleged, Falls could have gathered evidence that would have put him away long enough to divorce him and start a new life.
Capital punishment has long been abolished in Australia, but recent court decisions have set a legal precedent overturning this law, replacing it with a licence for "battered wives" to execute alleged abusive husbands.
Message to battered wives: open season on abusive husbands
Forget about refuges, AVO's, the police, the Family Court and other resources. There is a simpler and more permanent solution to your problem.
Just arm yourself with a gun, sharp knife or bottle of poison. Wait until your abusive husband is asleep or defenceless, then shoot, stab or poison him as the case may be.
No need to hide the body, just call the police and claim self-defence.
Get yourself a good defence lawyer who can bring a tear to the eyes of the jurors and you are home-free. You get the family assets and a new life.
You simply claim self-defence, you do not have to prove it. Australian law places the burden on the prosecution to disprove self-defence, an almost impossible task considering that the concept of self-defence is in the mind of the defendant. You only have to have a sincerely held belief that your life is in danger to claim self-defence.
And the recent cases of McDonald and Falls have shown that the perceived threat to your life does not have to be immediate, it can be at some time in the future. Falls' drugged husband obviously posed no threat at the time he was killed.
The self-defence law provides that if self-defence is accepted, you are to be acquitted not only of murder but also the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Falls tells a TV audience how she got away with murder
A few weeks after the acquittal Falls was interviewed on Channel Nine's A Current Affair program where she decribed in cold-blooded detail how she executed her husband.
""When I saw that he'd dozed off, and to me what seemed he was asleep, I went and got changed," she recounted.
"I put pyjamas on, I tied my hair back, I had socks on, gloves, took all my jewellery off."
"I didn't know how much mess there'd be. I thought once I shot him, I'd be splattered in blood.
Rodney Falls was still breathing even after the second shot to the head, Falls told Channel Nine. "It was like, full bottle of sleeping tablets, two bullets to the head and he's still breathing. And I've got nothing left, nothing at all. To me he was like the Terminator."
She was about to suffocate him with a duvet when he finally stopped breathing.
"When I went to fire that second shot, he had a dry tear stain down his face" Falls said.