Bernadette Burns has appeared in the Supreme Court for her part in the death of Adelaide grandfather Robert Whitwell.
Bernadette Burns has appeared in the Supreme Court for her part in the death of Adelaide grandfather Robert Whitwell.

Qld woman admits to murdering grandfather during robbery

A WOMAN has admitted to murdering Adelaide grandfather Robert Whitwell during a violent robbery that she carried out with her friend - who was the granddaughter of the victim and has already pleaded guilty to murder.

On Monday, Bernadette Burns, 22, of Redbank Plains, 33km southwest of Brisbane, pleaded guilty to murder before Supreme Court Justice Trish Kelly.

She was set to face trial for murder but has instead pleaded guilty to the crime - under a unique section of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act.

Burns has admitted to committing an intentional act of violence while undertaking the robbery, which resulted in the death of Mr Whitwell.

The offence - which is similar to the controversial US offence of "felony murder" - still carries the maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Justice Kelly transferred the case to her colleague Justice Kevin Nicholson, who is hearing the matter of her co-accused Brittney Jade Dwyer, the granddaughter of Mr Whitwell.

The pair will be back in court later this month.

Shelby Lee Angie Holmes (left) and accused killer Brittney Jade Dwyer (right). Source: Facebook
Shelby Lee Angie Holmes (left) and accused killer Brittney Jade Dwyer (right). Source: Facebook

Last week, Dwyer, 20, faced sentencing submissions for her role in the killing of Mr Whitwell, 81, in his Craigmore unit in August last year.

Dwyer, also of Redbank Plains, fabricated an eleventh-hour lie to tarnish the name of her victim and excuse her crime, the court was told.

Supreme Court Justice Kevin Nicholson heard Dwyer told a psychiatrist that her grandfather may have sexually molested her as a child - but she wasn't sure if it was real or not.

"It is a most unpleasant assertion. It's unfounded in any other material," prosecutor Jim Pearce told the court.

He said "at one minute to midnight" Dwyer was having flashbacks about something her victim may or may not have done, despite never having raised this as a motive at any other point in the investigation.

"In my submission, the court would be entitled to infer, with the absence of evidence from Ms Dwyer about this, that it is just simply an invention designed to give her an explanation for why she acted as she did," he said.

"Because the only other explanation is a premeditated, pre-planned, almost sociopathic killing.

"It's insidious to a man who was murdered in that way."

He asked Justice Nicholson to place no weight on that part of the psychiatric report.

Murder victim Robert Whitwell, who was found dead in his Craigmore unit on August 8, 2016.
Murder victim Robert Whitwell, who was found dead in his Craigmore unit on August 8, 2016.

Dwyer's lawyer, Craig Caldicott, said his client wasn't sure whether "her flashbacks" were real or not and it would not be presented as a motive in the killing.

He said the motivation was to steal money from her grandfather.

Her case was then adjourned until after Burns' case had been finalised.

Another friend, Shelby Lee Angie Holmes, 19, was sentenced last week for trespassing on Mr Whitwell's property in the months leading up to the murder.

Holmes was jailed for 17 months with a non-parole period of nine months, suspended on the condition she be of good behaviour for three years.

The court was told Dwyer and Holmes drove from Queensland to Adelaide to rob Mr Whitwell of "thousands of dollars" of the "hundreds of thousands" which they believed was kept in his shed.

But the girls were frightened off by a sensor light, barking dogs and a nearby neighbour.

Last month, Mr Whitwell's brothers told how they embraced his crying granddaughter in the days after his death - only to discover they had been comforting his killer.

Dwyer had to listen as her family outlined their devastation and despair in victim impact statements read out in the Supreme Court by prosecutor Jim Pearce.

In his statement, Mr Whitwell's brother Geoffrey Whitwell said he was devastated by his brother's murder and missed him dearly.

"Bob and I were very close," he wrote.

"We always came together for Christmas and Bob's birthday was special because it was on the same day as my wife's (birthday)."

He wrote that he would speak with his older brother on the phone frequently.

"But I'll never hear the phone ring with my brother on the other end," he said in his statement.

Mr Whitwell said Dwyer, her mother Tonya Dwyer and brother all flew to Adelaide from Queensland after the murder.

"We welcomed you into our home, embraced you and comforted you, all the while you wept with your fake tears and made comments like 'my poor poppa'," he said.

"I now know that I had been embracing and comforting my brother's killer. You are a master of deception, I will give you that.

"I will never forgive you. You're a cruel, deceitful person with no regard for human life - I believe you are dangerous and evil and deserve the highest penalty."

Mr Whitwell's other brother, Peter Whitwell, also spoke of inviting Dwyer into the family home and comforting her in the days after his death.

"We were just coming to terms with his death when we found out it was his own granddaughter who was responsible," he said in his statement.

Tonya Dwyer - whose daughter killed her father - also provided a statement to the court, saying she had been a happy wife, mother and daughter until everything changed on May 2 last year.

"(Now) I feel like I'm drowning in life," she said.

Dwyer's father, Garry Dwyer, described his former father-in-law as a "great man, who loved his family".

He asked the court to impose an "appropriate" jail term on his daughter.

Dwyer pleaded guilty to the murder and in February and admitted to a further charge of aggravated serious criminal trespass between April 30 last year and May 2.

News Corp Australia

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