Man on trial over Sydney bombings and shootings in 1980s

SYDNEY — A 71-year-old former firefighter went on trial Tuesday over a spate of Sydney bombings and shootings that terrorized Australia's legal fraternity more than 30 years ago.

Leonard John Warwick has pleaded not guilty in the New South Wales state Supreme Court to four murder charges and 20 other charges relating to crimes between February 1980 and July 1985. The crime spree became known as the Family Court bombings because it targeted Family Court judges and their families. Warwick faces a possible life sentence if convicted.

Opening the trial on Tuesday, prosecutor Ken McKay told Justice Peter Garling that Warwick had been involved in a long-running Family Court dispute that ended in 1986 with his former wife Andrea Blanchard over their infant daughter which "inextricably linked" him to the crimes.

His first alleged victim was his brother-in-law, Stephen Blanchard, who was fatally shot at his Sydney home in 1980. His body was found days later in a creek. Five weeks later, Justice David Opas was shot dead while answering the doorbell at his home. Opas had been hearing Warwick's family dispute.

McKay alleged that Warwick had told his estranged wife during a court hearing that Opas "won't be there much longer," weeks before he was shot.

When the wife asked if Opas was taking a vacation, Warwick replied, "No, he won't be there at all," McKay told the court.

Justice Richard Gee, who took over Warwick's case after Opas's death, survived a bombing that destroyed his own home in 1984. The Parramatta Family Court in Sydney was also destroyed by a bomb that year, but no one was injured.

Warwick is also charged with bombing the home of Justice Ray Watson, killing the judge's wife Pearl Watson in 1984.

Warwick allegedly detonated a bomb that ripped apart a Jehovah's Witnesses hall in 1985, killing minister Graham Wyke and injuring 13 people.

The congregation had offered support to Warwick's estranged wife, McKay said.

A bomb, allegedly planted by Warwick, was also found under the car of his wife's lawyer.

Defense lawyer Alan Conolly described Warwick as "a lover, not a murderer." Conolly said the prosecution's evidence was "flimsy."

"There was not one scintilla of evidence against this man except some DNA which the defense will say has been very poorly cared for," Conolly told the judge.

McKay said Warwick's father had worked at a colliery using explosives and detonators for decades, and Warwick served in the army from 1967 to 1969.

The trial is to continue July 9 before a judge with no jury.

Warwick had long been a suspect, but was not charged until 2015 after a three-year police cold-case investigation.

____

This s story has been corrected to show that trial is to resume July 9, not Wednesday.

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