Robert Xie – an evidence-free conviction

Andrew L. Urban.

There was no direct evidence that Robert Xie viciously murdered five members of his wife’s family in 2009, nor any credible circumstantial evidence. The appeal against his 2017 conviction has been delayed by the Crown, most recently in October this year (2019). This briefing is published to provide the public with information about the case which may be at odds with media-generated perceptions about the man and the murders. 

The timeline below draws attention to the fact that for almost two years after the brutal murders in an Epping (Sydney) home, police had nothing to go on, no clues, no evidence, no weapon, no witnesses … We can infer that there was pressure from senior police and perhaps others, to get a result. Such a major crime could not be allowed to become a cold case when law and order was a central plank of modern politics.

July 18, 2009: Newsagent Min Lin, 45, Mr Lin’s wife Yun Li “Lily” Lin, 44, their sons Henry, 12, and Terry, 9, and Mrs Lin’s sister, Yun Bin “Irene” Lin, 39, are found dead in their North Epping home.

Min Lin’s sister Kathy and her husband Lian Bin “Robert” Xie had gone to the Lin house (just 200 metres from their own) around 9:50am, after receiving a phone call to say the family newsagency had still not opened. They discovered the bodies, which had been bashed so badly their faces were unrecognisable.

Police investigations over the next six months fail to find clues or culprits. The case of a brutal massacre in suburban Sydney is going cold. In January 2010, police set up surveillance on Robert Xie: cameras and listening devices installed in his house and car. Still nothing.

Robert Xie

May 5, 2011: Robert Xie is arrested and charged with five counts of murder. Police tell the media that he emerged as their prime suspect about six months after the killings. Xie is held on remand. It’s almost two years since the murders. 

The prosecution claims that Robert Xie murdered his extended family some time after 2am on Saturday July 18. The time is critical to the Crown’s case because Robert had gone to bed sometime after 2am, a fact corroborated by computer records, which showed activity until then. This is not disputed. Kathy didn’t notice when he came to bed because she was already asleep. There is no forensic evidence linking Xie to the crime scene.

Earlier that evening, the whole family had been together, except Lily and Irene, at the Merrylands home of Kathy’s parents for the regular Friday night dinner; Mrs Zhu’s pork and sticky rice the favourites. They had all left to go home before 10pm. (Lily and Irene were often absent, usually working at the Lin family owned newsagency in Epping.) The Lin family lived at 55a Boundary Road, just 200 metres around the corner from Robert and Kathy Xie in Beck Street.

The autopsy reports state that the victims died “between 17 July 2009 and 18 July 2009”. The murders could have taken place anytime between 10.30pm (when the two Lin boys were dropped home by Robert and Kathy Xie after the family dinner) and 2am, for example, while Robert was still at his computer.

Although four trials were started, the first two (2013-14 & 2014) were both abandoned; in the first trial, new evidence was introduced and thus the trial was aborted. The second trial was aborted when the judge fell ill.

The third trial (2015) went for nine months before Justice Elizabeth Fullerton, and was prosecuted by Mark Tedeschi QC, then senior counsel for the NSW DPP; this trial ended with a hung jury.

At the end of the fourth trial (with a new defence team), on Thursday, February 13, 2017, Justice Fullerton sentenced Lian Bin (Robert) Xie to life imprisonment without parole for the brutal, savage murder of five members of his wife Kathy’s family, in their North Epping home on July 18, 2009. Hearing the sentence, Xie rose to his feet and called out: “I did not murder the Lin family, I am innocent.” His wife Kathy, weeping, echoed his claim of innocence and has never wavered in her support.

An appeal was launched immediately. The grounds of appeal were tendered in court on December 14, 2018. The court was to begin to hear arguments in October 2019 but the Crown has (again) sought a delay.

ANALYSIS

Robert Xie’s prosecutor was seriously misguided when suggesting that ‘saving face’ was a motive for the murders and the very idea makes Ron* annoyed; Ron is Chinese.

He questions the validity of a Westerner telling the court that Robert Xie would be motivated to savagely murder five of his extended family because he ‘lost face’ over his brother in law’s success and money. It was said by the prosecutor to have caused him ‘intense bitterness and hatred’ against his victim. Ron’s Chinese friends laughed derisorily when he told them about the claim.

That is so absurd, says Ron, his voice rising. It’s as if the prosecutor had heard something about ‘loss of face’ in a TV documentary, about a culture he doesn’t know and attached it to the accused. And the jury knew no better. They, too, had heard the phrase, and had no idea how ridiculous the prosecution’s claim was; Ron shakes his head. It was like someone had thought they understood China from eating Chinese food and seeing travel posters.

It’s inner city Sydney and we’re sitting in the enclosed back yard of a typical Newtown two-storey, Ron, his friend Phillip and me, around a small table on which an empty mug stands as silent witness to Phillip’s afternoon cuppa. We’re under a flight path, but they’ve got used to the soaring interruptions in the now overcast sky. Ron is reading a book, until we start talking about the case of Robert Xie.

When he first heard about the case, Ron had no opinions “or even thoughts” about Xie’s guilt or innocence. He comes from mainland China – like Xie. Xie had been an ear, nose and throat specialist in China before moving to Australia and his speech reflected his education. His English at the time was fairly good, too, and is even better these many years later.

The media, following the police line, readily turned the false ‘loss of face’ motive into the symbolic reason for the murder victims to have had massive damage to their faces. This makes Ron even angrier. It stretches the insult-by-ignorance beyond breaking point.

In Chinese culture, losing face is bad, says Ron, but not so bad as to generate so much hate that you’d kill somebody – never mind five members of your family. Losing face generates feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment; not hatred.

If only the jury knew …

The prosecution also put it to the jury that Xie wanted to get his hands on the Lin family ‘wealth’ – which didn’t exist. The third (far fetched) motive proposed was that Xie wanted to sexually abuse their 15 year old daughter, Brenda, without her family being around to protect her. This aspect gained much publicity and regardless of its veracity or relevance to the murders would certainly influence anyone’s thinking about Xie, even though he was not charged with any such offence.

Ron’s friend Phillip, has also been a keen observer of this case, attending the trials and making notes. He compiled the following summary of compelling circumstances around the case that deserve a lot more attention than the verdict suggests.

For some considerable time around the Lin murders, an international drug syndicate was using a convenient system to smuggle contraband into Sydney. Many newsagents had installed sets of post office boxes in their front windows. Customers could obtain their mail at any time of the day or night and were not under surveillance. The Lins’ Epping newsagency provided such a service. The post boxes at their Rawson St newsagency had been used by an international drug cartel to smuggle cocaine, MDMA and heroin through the mail from Thailand, Indonesia, Spain, Bolivia, Columbia, Pakistan, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates.

Drug dealers managed to use fake documentation to obtain a number of these boxes. Document checking was left to the proprietor. Letters and parcels of contraband were sent to particular box numbers and collected by the dealers. One dealer had been caught about a year earlier and possessed keys to various boxes all over Sydney.

Border control was aware of what was going on because they would periodically intercept articles and confiscate them. They created lists of box numbers which came under suspicion. It is unknown whether they took into account the difficulty they were creating for the newsagents when an expected article did not arrive.

Several customers of the newsagency testified that they saw heated exchanges between Min Lin and other customers from time to time. One may conclude that an expected parcel (or several) had failed to arrive. Evidence provided by the Australian Federal Police indicated that the amount of contraband confiscated by Border Control was measured in kilograms, so one would expect that Min needed to handle disgruntled customers on a regular basis. One can only guess the amount of contraband that was passing through the boxes.

Clearly not all contraband was seized, or even detected. It was a known fact that some parcels were so big that they could not be squeezed into the post box. They were stored in the back room of the newsagency and handed over to the recipient in due course after a notice was placed in the box. Over time, both Min and Irene would come to recognise regular collectors of such parcels.

It is not difficult to imagine that the dealers harboured suspicions that Min is intercepting some of the packages for his own benefit. They can hardly contact Border Control and make enquires. If the situation persists for long enough, they may decide to take drastic action, especially if they discover that the AFP have convinced Min to contact them when a suspicious package arrives. Min can recognise the regular recipients and is a threat to their operations.

The drastic action of killing the entire Lin family occurs one Friday night. The extreme violence and barbarity makes headlines around the world. What a clear warning to anyone thinking of getting in the way of the syndicate. What a clear motive for the killings.

The judge’s sentencing remarks provide a matching overlay to such a scenario – a perfect fit for a gang of vicious criminals exacting the price for what they saw as disloyalty and theft.

CROWN’S DNA EVIDENCE – UNPROVEN

In the absence of any durable evidence that pointed to Robert Xie, the prosecution made much of a DNA sample (‘stain 91’) taken from the Xie family home garage floor.

JUDGE’S REMARKS ON SENTENCE (extract)

In the course of executing a search warrant over the offender’s residence in May 2010, a small transfer blood stain was located on the garage floor. It was the Crown case at trial that this was the blood of at least four of the deceased inadvertently transferred by the offender onto the garage floor after the murders.

“… after the murders.” ? There is no evidence to that effect. Finding the DNA in 2010 does not provide a time stamp of when it was deposited. At best, all that the DNA smear in Xie’s garage shows is that someone – Xie or his wife or both – was at the crime scene at some stage during or after the crime, either discovering the bodies or committing the crime. The DNA smear does not differentiate between whether they discovered the bodies or whether they committed the crime. We already know they discovered the bodies, so the presence of the smear is meaningless, even if deposited after the murders and even if it is reliable evidence.

Which it is not. The forensic evidence about the DNA – the prosecution’s ‘smoking gun’ – is profoundly unreliable. Despite the judge’s sentencing remarks, it is not at all certain that it is blood. (The test conducted with luminol on the entire floor showed no likelihood of blood being present.)

Expert witnesses provided conflicting testimony, and in the end, none of them could exclude young Brenda Lin from the DNA sample; but Brenda was overseas on a school excursion at the time of the murders.

Stain 91 was “probably the most complex DNA sample ever introduced to a criminal trial in Australia,” the prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi QC was quoted saying in one article. My ‘researcher/observer’ Phillip has this to say: “That stain 91 was blood was the standout fact that the Crown was unable to prove. I recall the evidence vividly and have double-checked with the transcript. They absolutely failed.” He concludes: “If stain 91 is blood, the DNA evidence shows that it didn’t come from the crime scene; we can ignore it. If it is not blood, it didn’t come from the crime scene; we can ignore it.”

A credible explanation for stain 91 (tiny as it was, at 2cm x 6mm) may be found in the fact that the two families lived within 200 metres of each other and often played games together (eg badminton) in this garage.

* Ron is not his real name.

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16 Responses to Robert Xie – an evidence-free conviction

  1. roland zhang says:

    Evidence 5(Irene Line)
    Tan-pink contusions extended circumferentially around the left side of the face;

    Skull fractures:
    13.8 x 10 cm complex of comminuted fracture on the left side of the skull;
    Multiple, comminuted fractures of the base of the skull;

    Brain injuries:
    Perimortem lacerations of left brain; Multiple superficial intracortical contusions of right frontal and temporal lobe.

    Analysis:
    Irene got contrecoup brain injury with left skull and base of skull fractures with right side brain contusion.

    The typical contrecoup brain injury happen as people falling down to the ground with head hit to the ground, the injuries are one side skull fracture with opposite brain contusion, with or without fracture of base of the skull.

    Hammer only can causes one side skull fracture with same side epidural hematoma, it won’t cause opposite brain contusion. Irene’s left side had extensive skin contusions and large area skull fracture, we don’t think it’s caused by hammer, it’s caused by repeated head hit to hard surface.

    Conclusion:
    There is no weapon used for Irene, she was killed mostly by head thrown to hard surface.

  2. roland zhang says:

    Evidence 4(Yun Li Lin)
    There was intense haemorrhage within the right and left omohyoid muscles over the
    thyroid cartilage.
    There was an acute fracture of the right side of the hyoid bone.

    Analysis
    This is the analysis from forensic report:
    Evidence strongly suggestive of asphyxial injury included abrasions of the left side of the neck, extensive soft tissue haemorrhage within the neck and fracture of the hyoid bone.
    These are consistent with neck compression.

    Conclusion
    Hyoid bone fracture because of consistent with neck compression, it told us that the neck injury can’t be caused by hammer, it caused by short metal bar pressing on Lily’s neck.

    Combined with these evidences: transferred material on temporal bone, nasal bone and tissue displaced to posterior pharynx and hyoid bone fracture due to consistent with neck compression, it’s almost sure that hammer can’t cause such injuries and the most likely weapon is short metal bar like object.

    If Robert Xie brought hammer like object to kill 5 people, he must also bring short metal bar like object.

    That’s why we think at least two killers, probably three killers killed Lin family. We will analyse later.

  3. Peter Yong says:

    Robert Xie was convicted of being the sole murderer, murdering 5 members of the Lin family in the order of Min Lin and wife Lily in their main bedroom first, then Lily’ sister Irene in the second bedroom , and lastly Henry and his brother in their bedroom. But about 70 blood samples collected from Henry’ bedroom all failed to identify trace DNA of the Irene’ DNA! Defence barrister pointed out in court that this is another evidence that Irene and Henry brothers were killed by different persons, that sole murderer allegation was faulted. Prosecutor ‘ s answer was that that can be explained by the sample collectors didn’t collect samples from every inch of the murder scene surface! This is terribly wrong, as DNA lab nowadays apply technology like PCR, which would identify even extreme trace amount of DNA , to the point as a drop of blood in Pacific Ocean. And 70 samples collected by trained crime scene technician ,all failed to find Irene’ DNA, is a overwhelming evidence against the allegation.

  4. roland zhang says:

    Evidence 3(Yun Li Lin)
    The maxilla, complete nasal bone complex, the medial 2/3* of the right and left
    zygomas, and the complete base of both bony orbits showed complex,
    comminuted fractures, for which reconstruction was not feasible. Moreover, the
    fractured bone mass and associated soft tissues were displaced into the posterior
    pharynx.

    Analysis
    How hammer from two dollar shop or an hammer liked object cushioned with cloth can make such lesion? It’s not only multiple comminuted fractures, but also make nasal bones and tissues displaced into the posterior pharynx. The distance from nose to posterior pharynx is roughly 10cm. How those bones and tissues can displaced to 10cm away?

    Why hammer repeatedly hit nose instead of head? Nose fracture is less lethal than head fracture, why murder wants to do this way?

    Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi said this case has to use circumstantial evidences. With 5 people murdered and so many rich and different kind of physical evidences, why he doesn’t like these evidences?

    Conclusion
    Instead of hammer like object, murder used chisel like or short metal bar, with the other end bond with cloth to easier hold it. Only with this kind of weapon, the fracture bone or tissue can be moved away more than 10cm.

    Robert Xie is innocent.

    • Phillip Chapman says:

      Roland, you have medical knowledge. Prosecution says death was caused by asphyxiation and bludgeoning. If someone is bludgeoned to death, can they later be asphyxiated? I would not think so; you only die once. So where asphyxiation has occurred, that was the cause of death. Would you agree?
      The Prosecution says (with no evidence) that Min was killed first. They don’t want Lily to be already dead at 10pm. In the bedroom, Lily’s blood is spattered on top of Min’s blood, indicating the order of bludgeoning – but that is not necessarily the order of death. The possibility that Lily died earlier has never been excluded. The defence never challenged the false reasoning here.

      • roland zhang says:

        You are right, once die, there is no any meaning for asphyxiation, because all breath stopped, all blood circulation stopped too.

        Lily is the only person had extensive neck injury, I will post it this weekend.

        She had acute fracture of hyoid bone, it’s usually caused by very seriously mechanical compress, hardly caused by hammer.

        • Phillip says:

          My memory of the evidence was that perhaps 4 victims showed evidence of asphyxiation. I suggest the easiest way to subdue a victim is first a blow to the head (from behind) to make them unconscious. Then asphyxiation with a pillow. This could be done anywhere in the house and bodies later positioned in the beds (two killers of course). The victims have been killed ( = asphyxiated ) between 8pm and 1am. The bludgeoning certainly occurred late. We know For sure that Lily was not bludgeoned before Min arrived home.

  5. roland zhang says:

    Evidence 2(Yun Li Lin)
    The right temporalis muscle was densely haemorrhagic and there was subjacent subgaleal haemorrhage. Reflection of the right temporalis muscle revealed a 0.6 to 0.3 cm area of grey-black smudged particulate foreign material on the temporal bone, at the apex of the right temporal bone.

    Analysis
    Temporalis muscle is the thickest skull muscle, without penetration, foreign material can’t reach to temporal bone. In that case, there is no way only with hammer liked object can make foreign particular reached to temporal bone.

    Conclusion
    A sharp end metal bar may be used which is totally contradicted that prosecutor claimed cloth used as cushion of the hammer liked object, or at least there are more than one weapon used at the scene.

  6. roland zhang says:

    Evidence 1(Min Lin):
    The gastric mucosa was arranged in the usual rugal folds and the lumen contained
    approximately 25 mL of thin, sanguineous fluid without pill or food fragments.

    The proximal small bowel contained partially digested food.

    The urinary bladder was distended with 600 mL of pale, straw coloured urine

    Analysis:
    Normally food will leave stomach 3 hours after meal, and small intestine should be empty after 8 hours.

    For distended bladder, it usually happens either before going to bed or at early morning.

    Conclusion:
    Combined with the fact Min Lin has distended bladder with partial digested food in his proximal small bowel, he was murdered around 10pm supposed he had dinner with his parents at around 7pm.

    So the murders happened before midnight, more accurately it happened before kids coming back.

    • andrew says:

      The bladder evidence was noted by Justice Fullerton as something that should be of great interest to the defence. The third trial, where it was raised, resulted in a hung jury. Tellingly, it was not addressed in the fourth and final trial (defended by a new team) in which Xie was found guilty.

      In that fourth and final trial, no details of the autopsy reports concerning the stomach contents of the victims were addressed. Taken together, the bladder and stomach evidence is compelling – and exculpatory. Reasonable doubt would certainly be established in the minds of jury members…if they were made aware of it.

      • Name Supplied says:

        very true i was on the last jury and this should have come out but we heard nothing ,I was the last one to leave before the 12 were selected to make there verdict i was not convinced he did it and still dont

  7. roland says:

    The analysis we found is that the murder happened at around 10pm and 3 adults were murdered first just before kids come back, and later 2 kids were murdered.

    The pathologist claimed that kids not died immediately, they died of 30min or 45 min later while that same pathologist said they don’t know exactly died time. How could identify people after hit and still alive for 30min?

    The reality is kids killed after about one hour.

    When kids killed, they still wear day time pants and there is 100(50) note in one of kid pocket which is given by kid’s grandpa for new shoe.

    The Lin’s in law was died of Controconp contusion laceration, which is not directly caused by hammer like object.

    How could be Lin’s stomach still has undigested food while his bladder is enlarged? This won’t happened at 3 or 4 am.

    Too many pathology evidences that lead to Xie is innocent.

  8. Phillip says:

    In addition to human analysis, a highly sophisticated computer program developed in the US was used to analyse the DNA in stain91. Any given genetic profile can be checked to see whether it is present in the mixture. (Stain91 is a mixture of DNA from several people.) The program assigns a score to the profile being checked. A person is excluded if their score is less than 1. If a profile scores more than 100, there is a very high probability that the person under consideration is a contributor to the mixture. In stain91 six profiles were found with scores exceeding 4000; they were the six members of the family – yet there were only 5 victims! Since Brenda was out of the country at the time, it is virtually impossible for the DNA in stain91 to have originated from the crime scene. The Crown asserted that stain91 was evidence of the murder weapon having rested on the garage floor, awaiting disposal later in the day.

  9. Tony Brownlee says:

    Until governments accept people off the street no longer represent the wider community as jurors and that the time has arrived to hire professional jurors from which juries are chosen who are educated particularly in the verse: beyond reasonable doubt the court of appeal and court of criminal appeal/S will suffer from overwork!
    The complexity of criminal Trials no longer reflect those of the the 1900’s!

    • Jilly says:

      Can we trust people if they ARE given the position of being Jurors. I personally doubt it. We can’t trust the Police, we cannot trust the Judges or Lawyers, so what can WE do. Bring them from another Country. People off the street may be the better of the two evils. I don’t think GIVEN the maggots in the press, that we should use Jurors from the same State, due to false accusations and speculation that goes into Newspapers.
      I feel terrible for this man and ALL THAT HAVE NOT HAD JUSTICE for the death/s of their loved ones, instead, they are jailed for life, with NO PAROLE on Circumstantial evidence. Whatever happened to “BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT”?
      Australia should hang their heads in shame. So freaking wrong! :-(

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