AN ELDERLY farmer has been found guilty of murdering environmental protection officer Glen Turner who he shot dead on a dirt track during a bitter legal fight over land clearing.
The widow of Mr Turner, Alison McKenzie, sobbed with relief as the jury announced their guilty verdict
Farmer Ian Turnbull showed no expression as the verdict was read out, glancing once at Mr Turner’s family.
Turnbull, 81, pleaded not guilty to murdering the compliance officer following a two-year legal battle over land clearing on his family’s properties at Croppa Creek, north of Moree.
Instead, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter, claiming he was mentally unstable and Mr Turner, the lead investigator in the land clearing prosecution, had pursued him so relentlessly he lost his self control.
The Crown rejected the manslaughter plea, telling the jury how Mr Turnbull stalked Mr Turner around his vehicle parked outside his grandson’s property before shooting him dead on a dirt track on July 29, 2014.
During the five-week trial a jury heard how Turnbull confronted Mr Turner and his colleague Robert Strange at the fence line of a his family’s property taking photos of burning piles of timber.
Mr Turnbull gave evidence that he pulled out his rifle and shouted “Turner you bastard, you wanted to put the Turnbulls off their farms and you have done it”, and then shot him in the neck.
Mr Strange gave evidence that during about a 40-minute stand-off they both begged Turnbull to put down his gun but the farmer told them Mr Turner was, “ only going in a body bag”.
As dusk settled Mr Turner ran for the tree line and was fatally shot in the back by Turnbull.
Turnbull told the jury that after he shot Mr Turner he told Mr Strange, “you can do what you like now I’m going home. You can tell the police, they’ll know where I am”.
The jury heard the OEH had been pursuing the Turnbulls over illegal land clearing since 2012 when they issued them with a stop work order.
But land clearing continued on their properties Strathdoon and Colorado until July 2014.
Mr Turnbull pleaded guilty in 2013 to illegally clearing 500ha of land but weeks before shooting Mr Turner he discovered the OEH were prosecuting him again.
Mr Turnbull’s son Grant told the jury it was then his father reached, “a point of despair”.
Outside of court, Ms McKenzie choked back tears as she said they would “never fill the void that has been left in our lives but we got the right result”.
Mr Turner’s sister Fran Pearce slammed Turnbull’s defence team saying “the murderer was portrayed as the victim”.
“We expected the trial to be about the murder of Glen Turner, a good man doing his job on behalf of our community. Instead it was hijacked by the defence into an attack on Glen’s character and a platform for the Turnbull dynasty to continue their grievance in regard to the native vegetation laws,” Ms Pearce read aloud from a statement.
“The murderer was portrayed as the victim, a poor, depressed respectable farmer driven to despair by the Office of Environment and Heritage.
“In reality he is a wealthy property developer who simply refused to accept that the law applied to him.”
Ms Pearce said her brother’s young children Alexandra and Jack now have to live the rest of their lives without their father.
“Glen was a man that was full of vitality and he had a passion for life he was a loving husband, father, son, brother, uncle friend and colleague. He was a respected member of the community.”
Ms McKenzie and Ms Pearce said they owed the conviction to Mr Turner’s colleague Robert Strange whose evidence as the only witness to the shooting was vital.
“We are very honoured that he had the strength to give his testimony because we know that’s what got the conviction.”
Turnbull’s sentencing hearing will be on June 15