Earring vital clue in girl’s murder

More than 20 years after teenager Hayley Dodd disappeared in WA, a convicted rapist accused of murdering her is facing a retrial.

An earring is a key piece of evidence prosecutors are relying on to convict a rapist of murdering a teenager more than two decades ago, but his lawyer has told a Perth court he had no time to commit the crime.

Francis John Wark, 64, is facing a retrial in the WA Supreme Court, accused of murdering Hayley Dodd, 17, who disappeared in July 1999 while walking along a regional road near Badgingarra, northeast of Perth.

It is alleged Mr Wark abducted Hayley with a sexual intention, then murdered her.

An ankh earring – which allegedly was found in the seat cover of his ute during a cold case review in 2013 and allegedly belonged to Hayley – is a central piece of evidence in the case.

But defence counsel Darryl Ryan said the earring did not belong to Hayley, adding it was not unique or valuable, and she was “certainly not the only one” who had a pair.

Mr Ryan also said it was implausible that the earring was initially overlooked.

In her opening address, Director of Public Prosecutions Amanda Forrester noted Mr Wark had been convicted of sexually assaulting a woman he gave a lift to in Queensland in June 2007.

That woman was repeatedly raped and beaten for hours until she managed to run to a neighbour and police were called, the court heard.

Mr Wark pleaded guilty to charges stemming from that crime.

Ms Forrester said it showed Mr Wark had a “tendency to pick up women and violently sexually assault them”.

But Mr Ryan said that incident was different to the current case.

He said in the other case, Mr Wark had been drinking, as had the woman, and he had been smoking cannabis.

Mr Ryan told the jury they could not assume Mr Wark was responsible for Hayley’s murder just because he committed the other crime.

Ms Forrester said Hayley and her friend were embarking on what they hoped would be a working trip around Australia at the time of her disappearance.

“Importantly, Hayley was keeping in touch with her family, with whom she was very close,” Ms Forrester said.

Hayley’s mother had a final conversation with her, in which the teenager asked for money, but Ms Dodd never heard from her daughter again.

It is the state’s case that Hayley died the next day.

Ms Forrester said Hayley had been making her way to a property to surprise some people she had stayed with before, but “she never got there”.

“She had the misfortune to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Ms Forrester said.

Hayley was 152cm tall and weighed about 40kg.

“She looked young for her 17 years,” Ms Forrester said.

She said Hayley resisted her attacker and left behind “tiny traces” of herself.

Hayley’s friend became concerned when she failed to arrive at her destination and her mother also alerted police.

Mr Wark provided police with an alibi, detailing his movements that day.

Items were seized from his vehicle, including a car cover and some vacuumings, although they were securely stored rather than thoroughly examined at the time.

Hayley’s disappearance remained a mystery until police conducted a cold case review in 2013.

Ms Forrester said it was “a bit of a breakthrough” when the earring was discovered in the car seat cover, although there was no DNA recovered.

Hair was also found and experts are expected to testify it was “highly likely” the DNA could have come from Hayley.

Ms Forrester likened the circumstantial case to a jigsaw puzzle.

Mr Wark’s movements that day, including trips to a supermarket and butcher, are also expected to be a significant part of the trial.

Mr Ryan said there were always two sides to every story.

He also noted that people’s “memories fade with the passage of time”, while some witnesses had since died so their written statements could not be questioned.

“He never saw her, he had nothing to do with her disappearance,” Mr Ryan said.

“He had nothing to do with Hayley Dodd at all.”

Mr Ryan said his client had an alibi and was not near the spot where Hayley was last seen at the relevant time.

He said evidence about timing would be crucial to the case.

Possible “subsequent sightings” of Hayley after the time she was allegedly abducted also created doubt about his client’s guilt, Mr Ryan said.

Justice Stephen Hall told the jury it was no secret the case was a retrial.

“It’s important that you do not speculate about that earlier trial,” he said.

“This is a completely new trial.

“The outcome of the previous trial is irrelevant and cannot assist you.”

The jury will be taken for a viewing of significant places in Moora and Badgingarra on Tuesday before they begin hearing evidence on Wednesday.

The trial continues.

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