In 2015, a pregnant 16-year-old named Tiffany Taylor disappeared. The Queensland man who had previously been sentenced to life in prison for her murder, had his conviction overturned on Tuesday morning after winning his appeal.
Rodney Wayne Williams, 65, was originally found guilty and sentenced to life in prison after a 19-day trial in the Brisbane Supreme Court in March 2020.
Taylor disappeared in July 2015 after allegedly meeting Williams for a paid sexual liaison. Her body has never been found. According to ABC News, the original trial was told Taylor had been using a website to organise regular paid “sexual liaisons” and had previously threatened several men who had refused to pay her.
On Tuesday in the Court of Appeal in Brisbane, Justice Walter Sofronoff determined the trial judge’s directions “wrongly invited” the jury to use this information to conclude Williams had motive for the murder. “That they might find that Tiffany tried to extort [Williams] and that in order to prevent her from making a false complaint he formed the intention to kill her and did kill her,” he said, “the direction created a possible path to a verdict of guilty, which was not open.”
In a judgement published by the court on Tuesday, the court found that, “The directions… left it open to the jury to speculate that Tiffany’s proclivity to demand and extort money was proof that the appellant intended to kill her.”
According to the court documents, lawyers also argued a miscarriage of justice occurred when a direction was made to the jury over identification evidence from two witnesses, with Sofronoff stating the direction had “wrongly suggested” that Williams had to prove the witnesses had seen her. “In doing so, in my respectful opinion, the direction denied [Williams] a fair chance of acquittal that should have been open to him,” Sofronoff said.
Three Court of Appeal judges ruled in favour of Williams and set aside his conviction.
ABC News reported that in 2020, Williams had pleaded not guilty and denied having sex with the teen. The defence at the time claimed he had given her a lift to Redbank Plains, a suburb of Ipswich, where she jumped out of his car at an intersection.
Despite this statement, Williams later changed his story, saying instead he dropped her off at a truck stop on the Warrego Highway, which was the last time he saw her. Forensic officers later found splatters of Taylor’s blood inside Williams’ car, which he blamed on a nose bleed the teen had before dropping her at the truck stop west of Ipswich.
During his initial sentencing, the Supreme Court in Brisbane heard Williams had previously been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of an elderly woman in Tasmania in 1978, and had also been convicted for the indecent assault of a girl in 1994.
A retrial has been ordered, however a date has not yet been set. Williams remains in jail but is free to apply for bail.