ON THIS DAY – April 30, 1950


Five hours after retirement, a Criminal Court jury found James Raymond O’Keefe, 58, barrister, guilty of the murder of his crippled wife at their home in North Melbourne on this day in 1950. Mr. Justice Gavan Duffy sentenced O’Keefe to death. He said he would pass on the jury’s strong recommendation for mercy, which he would second. Shortly after the jury retired, they returned to ask whether mental or emotional provocation would justify manslaughter after physical provocation. When the Judge replied, “No,” Mr. Monahan, K.C., Senior Counsel for O’Keefe, objected. The Judge said the objection would be noted. Addresses by Counsel revealed conflict between the Crown and the defence whether some words in a confession to police by O’Keefe showed it to be a “mercy killing.” O’Keefe made no effort to tell the Court the story of happenings on the Sunday when he first attacked his wife with a knife, which was wrenched from him. Evidence stated that O’Keefe used a bread knife. After a five minute struggle, he inflicted fatal wounds on her throat. Instead of putting O’Keefe into the witness box, his counsel called 16 witnesses to say that O’Keefe was a kindly, considerate husband, whose tolerance to his wife’s tantrums had collapsed when his practice was ruined and his patience exhausted.