An alleged wife killer who successfully applied for bail under the state’s new bail laws will not be a risk to the community, a Supreme Court judge has ruled.
Steve Fesus, 41, who is charged with strangling his wife Jodie in 1997 and dumping her body in a shallow beach grave near Wollongong, was bailed on Monday, becoming the first accused murderer to test the state’s new bail laws.
Justice Michael Adams initially placed a non-publication order on his reasons for granting bail. However, he lifted the suppression order on Wednesday following widespread publicity and outrage from victims’ groups.
Mr Fesus was charged with murder last year and pleaded not guilty, almost 17 years after Mrs Fesus went missing from the couple’s Mount Warrigal home.
The Supreme Court heard on Monday there was some evidence that the newlyweds argued in the months leading up to Mrs Fesus’ death, with Mrs Fesus, 18, threatening to leave her husband and take their children if he did not change his attitude.
Mr Fesus previously made two unsuccessful bail applications. A third application on Monday, in light of changes to the Bail Act introduced on May 20, was successful.
Under previous laws, every criminal charge carried an automatic bail presumption, either in favour, against or neutral. Murder carried a presumption against bail.
Under new laws, the presumption has been abolished. Instead, a case-by-case risk assessment will determine bail based on whether the accused poses a serious risk to community safety, is likely to commit further crimes or is likely to abscond.
Accused criminals can re-apply for bail if previous concerns can be mitigated by strict conditions.
Mr Fesus was allowed to make a third bail application because new forensic evidence was presented which raised doubt over Mrs Fesus’ cause of death, Justice Adams said.
He said the new evidence ”significantly” affected the strength of the prosecution case against Mr Fesus and was given more weight under the new laws.
However, he clarified that a change in the strength of the prosecution case would still be enough to make a bail application under the old laws.
”It should not be assumed that, had the present application been brought under the old Act, bail would have been refused,” he said.
He said Mr Fesus would not endanger the safety of the community and was likely to show up to future court appearances.
”Viewing the information tendered on the application as a whole, I think that, on the balance of probabilities, the applicant does not present an unacceptable risk of failing to appear at any proceedings for the offence, committing a serious offence, endangering the safety of victims, individuals or the community, or interfering with witnesses or evidence,” he said.
On Monday, anti-violence campaigner Ken Marslew, whose son was murdered in 1994, said the decision to grant Mr Fesus bail was like a ”slap in the face” to murder victims and their families.
”The new bail laws are not in the best interests of the community,” he said.
”There’s more to it than just whether they’re a risk to the community. Imagine having lost a loved one and then seeing the person accused of their murder out on bail, walking freely. It’s a slap in the face to anyone who has lost a loved one in those circumstances.”
Sydney father Mark Leveson, whose son Matthew was murdered in 2007, said it was a ”deplorable and dangerous outcome”.