High Court dismisses murder appeal

The High Court has dismissed an appeal of a man twice convicted of murdering his lover in Brisbane eight years ago.

Retired American doctor Thomas Chris Lang was convicted of the stabbing murder of 68-year-old Brisbane woman Maureen Boyce at her Kangaroo Point apartment in 2015.

Lang’s first conviction in 2017 was quashed on appeal after a trial in which prejudicial evidence was admitted about the suicide rates of Australian women.

He was retried and convicted again in November 2020, and was sentenced to life in prison with a non-parole period of 20 years.

In March last year, Lang appealed against the conviction on two grounds: that the verdict was unreasonable, and that expert evidence of forensic pathologist Beng Beng Ong, contained conclusions about the knife injury which were inadmissible.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, then Lang appealed to the High Court on the same two grounds.


On Wednesday, the High Court dismissed that appeal.

Mrs Boyce was stabbed five times in her bed. Lang, who was the only other occupant of the unit, claimed she died by suicide.

Dr Ong, who attended the scene of Mrs Boyce’s death and conducted her autopsy, gave evidence that her wounds were more likely to have been inflicted by another person than to have been self-inflicted.

In the 143-page decision, Chief Justice Kiefel and Justice Gageler ruled the jury’s verdict was not unreasonable, and that this was the case even without the disputed evidence of Mr Ong. They said the admission of that evidence involved no wrong decision on any question of law.

“The opinion of Dr Ong was demonstrated by his evidence in chief at the trial to have been founded substantially on specialised knowledge of the interpretation of incised injuries acquired through long experience as a specialist forensic pathologist and through reading of literature on incised injuries within the specialised field of forensic pathology,” they said.

“Nothing in the evidence he gave in the pre-trial hearing or in cross-examination in the trial undermined that foundation.”


Justice Jagot agreed with their summation.

“In his evidence in chief at the trial, Dr Ong explained that his main task as a forensic pathologist was performing autopsies for coronial inquiries to establish the cause of death,” she said in relation to the second ground of appeal.

“In such cases, he would issue a post-mortem report identifying his findings and the cause of death if this could be determined.

“He had performed about 4000 to 5000 autopsies in total, at a rate of about 160 to 200 cases a year, as well as supervising an additional 20 to 30 autopsies a year.

“Dr Ong was familiar with the relevant literature and had examined the literature with specific regard to the minutiae of this stabbing.”

Justices Gordon and Edelman agreed that the verdict was not unreasonable but admitted they had struggled to come to that conclusion.


“The only proper approach, and that which we have adopted, is a dispassionate, objective and accurate assessment of all the evidence and argument,” they said.

“When that approach is taken, and the case is viewed as a whole, the better view is that the prosecution did exclude beyond reasonable doubt the hypothesis that Mrs Boyce committed suicide.”

However, they found the second ground had not been made out. They stated the appeal should be allowed, the conviction should be set aside and an order made for a retrial.

“The evidence of Dr Ong did not establish how his expertise provided a substantial basis for any connection between the facts and the opinion that he expressed,” they said.

“Still less did it establish the clarity of connection that should exist when expert evidence is given on a significantly disputed matter that is critical to the outcome of the trial.”

Read the decision here.

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