Australian Man Hanged 86 Years Ago for Murder Receives Pardon

An Australian governor gave a posthumous pardon Tuesday to a man hanged 86 years ago for the rape and murder of a young girl, after new research discredited the evidence used for his conviction.

Colin Campbell Ross, who was hanged in 1922 at the age of 28, was pardoned Tuesday by Victoria state Gov. David de Kretser.

Descendants of Ross and the 12-year-old victim, Alma Tirtschke, petitioned for the pardon.

Prosecutors alleged that Ross, who ran a wine saloon in Melbourne, gave Tirschke alcohol before raping and strangling her on New Year's Eve 1921. The only physical evidence connecting him to the crime were hairs on a blanket; prosecutors said the hairs were Tirtschke's.

While witnesses gave alibis for Ross, he was convicted and hanged four months later, protesting his innocence.

The pardon petition built on research by Kevin Morgan, who wrote a book about the case called "Gun Alley (Murder, Lies and the Failure of Justice)." Morgan arranged for forensic tests on the original hair samples and showed that the ones on Ross' blanket did not match Tirtschke's. He also gave new character evidence about the prosecution's main witness.

Victoria Attorney-General Rob Hulls said in a statement Tuesday that he referred the petition to the Supreme Court of Victoria and received an opinion "that there had been a miscarriage of justice in Mr. Ross' case."

"A pardon is not the same thing as a declaration of innocence," Hulls said. "In the circumstances of the case a retrial is not possible. A pardon is recorded against the conviction in recognition that the State forgives the legal consequences of the crime."

Tirtschke's niece, Bettye Arthur, was pleased with the pardon.

"It is a tragedy for everybody that the actual perpetrator was not caught and an innocent man lost his life," she was quoted as saying Tuesday.

Victoria state abolished the death penalty in 1975.