Elderly man accused of murder applies for bail

·3-min read

An elderly man is accused of killing his tenant over a dispute about unpaid rent and then returning with a tractor to cover up the crime scene.

However, police have no DNA evidence linking Steven Johnson to the murder of Christopher Jarvis and the 71-year-old wants to be set free.

Mr Jarvis, 38, was last seen leaving his home in Wangoom, near Warrnambool in Victoria's west, on June 13, 2006. His car was found on fire at Thunder Point coastal lookout.

His body has never been found, but detectives are planning to search a nearby forest for Mr Jarvis' body, the Supreme Court of Victoria has been told.

Framlingham Forest is owned by an Indigenous trust and police are negotiating with the local community along with trustees to conduct a thorough search, Detective Senior Constable Alicia Reivers said.

Wearing a neck brace, Johnson appeared in court on Monday to apply for bail after being charged with Mr Jarvis' murder, alongside co-accused Glenn Fenwick.

The prosecution opposed Johnson's bail because they do not want him to be able to go to Framlingham Forest and interfere with potential evidence.

"If he was to locate the body and/or items that might implicate him ... he would be depriving the prosecution of the best evidence," barrister Mark Gibson KC said.

Mr Jarvis, who was Johnson's tenant, allegedly confronted Johnson on his rental's driveway and there was a significant assault which led to his death, Mr Gibson said. 

He said a witness saw Johnson use a tractor to grade the driveway the day after Mr Jarvis was murdered.

After he being interviewed by police about Mr Jarvis, he visited Fenwick. Mr Gibson claimed Johnson told Fenwick "the s*** has hit the fan and I'm worried".

Mr Jarvis and Johnson were locked in a dispute about unpaid rent, which was due to be heard in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal days after Mr Jarvis went missing. 

Mr Jarvis had submitted a counter claim, asking for money for plumbing work needed on the roof.

Mr Gibson claimed the dispute was motive for Johnson to want Mr Jarvis dead, but Johnson's barrister disputed this.

"Mr Johnson tried to lawfully end this dispute and was about to have his day in the tribunal," Patrick Doyle SC said.

"He wasn't going to get anything out of violence."

Mr Doyle said the trial would likely not occur for another two years, and Johnson was vulnerable in custody due to his poor physical and mental health.

He has offered to put the value of his property, which he owns with his wife, as a surety.

Johnson has promised to abide by bail conditions, including he not contact witnesses and cannot visit Framlingham Forest.

Mr Doyle said there was no DNA evidence tying Johnson to the murder.

Analysis of a baseball bat, the alleged murder weapon, had not turned up any links to Johnson, he said.

"This is a very weak crown case," Mr Doyle said.

Justice John Champion will hand down his decision on Johnson's bail at a later date.