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INSIDE STORY: How coroner determined who killed Shandee

JOHN Peros gripped Shandee Blackburn's right wrist as he delivered a flurry of savage blows with a knife to her forehead, neck and chest, a has coroner found.

No one heard the 23-year-old scream as her attacker surprised her while she was walking home.

She had no time to cry out before a vicious stab damaged her larynx.

The brutal attack took less than one minute. In that same 60 seconds, her family's world was changed forever.

And it would take more than seven years, a Mackay Supreme Court trial and coronial inquest, before a coroner revealed who he believed killed Shandee for the broader community.

Shandee Blackburn was violently killed while walking home from work just after midnight.
Shandee Blackburn was violently killed while walking home from work just after midnight.

"Miss Blackburn died due to injuries sustained in an incident involving violence with Mr John Peros, who used a bladed instrument."

Shandee's family sat in a Mackay court gallery as Central Coroner David O'Connell delivered those powerful words.

"I realise and appreciate the gravity and ramifications of my findings," he said, during a three-hour hearing of his 66-page findings on Friday.

"It is not a decision I make lightly nor quickly, rather it is one I have very carefully considered and weighed up."

John Peros (right) leaves Mackay Court House on day three of the Shandee Blackburn inquest. He has been named the person responsible for her death.
John Peros (right) leaves Mackay Court House on day three of the Shandee Blackburn inquest. He has been named the person responsible for her death.

For 11 days in July last year, he presided over a coronial inquest which heard from 53 witnesses.

But the full coronial brief was much more comprehensive involving more than 500 witness statements, as well as CCTV and audio recordings.

He also had available a committal and trial transcript from the criminal proceedings when Mr Peros was facing a murder charge, of which he was acquitted by a Mackay Supreme Court jury in 2017.

"It was repeatedly said to me by Mr Peros' counsel that I had the same evidence before me as was heard by the jury who did not convict his client," Mr O'Connell said.

"With respect, that assertion is plainly incorrect.

"The inquest was much more comprehensive than the supreme court trial as to the available evidence which it could receive, such is the nature of our modern coronial process."

 

Shandee Blackburn died on February 9, 2013. A coroner ruled it was at the hands of her former boyfriend John Peros.
Shandee Blackburn died on February 9, 2013. A coroner ruled it was at the hands of her former boyfriend John Peros.

 

Mr O'Connell found the evidence pointed to a very deliberate and targeted attack on Shandee just after midnight on February 9, 2013 and that Mr Peros had motive.

"In no way did the evidence indicate that this was some random attack by some random member of the community," he said.

 

A white ute captured on CCTV driving around the area where Shandee died was a key focus in the investigation and inquest.
A white ute captured on CCTV driving around the area where Shandee died was a key focus in the investigation and inquest.

A key focus of the inquest and findings was a white ute captured by CCTV cameras driving near and away from the location where Shandee was killed on Boddington St.

She began walking home about midnight after finishing her shift at Harrup Park Country Club - the distance is about 1.2km.

Various CCTV cameras captured her journey.

Also captured was a vehicle taking what "a local person may consider to be an alleged unusual route".

The vehicle - a white, dual cab, four-wheel-drive ute - drove from Hamlet St to Juliet St and onto Sydney St, then turned right onto Eighteenth Lane and left onto Twelfth Lane.

The security footage revealed only one vehicle turned onto Twelfth Lane in the four hours from 9pm to 1pm that night.

The vehicle then turned left onto Shakespeare St and left onto Sydney St before heading into the lower part of Sydney St near Struthers.

 

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Not long after that, the court heard, a figure is captured on CCTV hiding in bushes outside the nearby Girl Guides hut "clearly wanting to hide themselves from the passing traffic".

The figure moves out from the foliage but quickly back as a car passed by.

"They are clearly trying to avoid being seen," Mr O'Connell said.

Security camera footage from a home on Juliet St as well as a nearby business also show a figure running across the four lanes of traffic on Sydney St and partially across the paddock.

A little later the figure is seen running back.

Vicki Blackburn at the site of her daughter’s death where community members laid tributes to the 23 year old.
Vicki Blackburn at the site of her daughter’s death where community members laid tributes to the 23 year old.

Mr O'Connell said the figure moved "with surprising agility", "at great pace or speed" and "with determination in a direction".

"There was much conjecture about what I could deduce from the CCTV footage," Mr O'Connell said.

"Very likely they simply ran in a way to come up behind Miss Blackburn … rather than from the side where she may have spotted them before they confronted her."

Taxi Driver Jaspreet Pandher leaves court after giving evidence during the Shandee Blackburn inquest.
Taxi Driver Jaspreet Pandher leaves court after giving evidence during the Shandee Blackburn inquest.

At the same time, taxi driver Jaspreet Pandher saw two people seemingly fighting where Shandee was killed as he turned from Boddington St onto Juliet St for a fare.

Mr O'Connell found Mr Pandher gave "very clear" evidence he saw only a lady with a man and they appeared to be fighting over a handbag.

"What I can clearly draw from his evidence, and I conclude, is that Miss Blackburn was attacked by just one assailant," he said.

"There were not two or more people assaulting her at this time."

As Mr Pandher made a three-point turn on Juliet St, he saw a figure run from where the assault occurred across the vacant lot.

Daily Mercury front page on February 11, 2013.
Daily Mercury front page on February 11, 2013.

"I am convinced, and I find, that at about 12.15am Miss Blackburn was assaulted by a single person who took her by surprise, delivering a number of stab wounds, one of which damaged her larynx with the result she could not call out," Mr O'Connell said.

"It occurred very quickly and with considerable force."

 

A pathologist who gave evidence at the inquest described the wounds as "being attacked very viciously and with some anger" and "had the appearance of frenzied stabbing".

They were inflicted "fairly quickly and with maximum force".

Mr O'Connell said the nature of the wounds was "highly suggestive" of a person high on ice "or a person with good upper body strength, power and swiftness and co-ordination of hand movements such as a proficient martial artist or fighter".

There were marks on her right wrist and slash wounds on her left described as defensive wounds.

"I can only conclude that she was held by her right wrist and was being held in very close proximity of her attacker, perhaps to prevent her running away, perhaps to prevent her fighting back with her right hand or arm," Mr O'Connell said.

Mackay victim Shandee Blackburn.
Mackay victim Shandee Blackburn.

Police identified 13 persons of interest during the extensive investigation - and after examining the case Mr O'Connell excluded all but Mr Peros, who listened to the findings over the phone.

"I have endeavoured to determine the reliability and credibility of these witnesses before me on the basis of their evidence and how it was presented," Mr O'Connell said.

Mr Peros was found not guilty of murder and denied any involvement in Shandee's death.

During the inquest, he was directed to give evidence after claiming privilege from self-incrimination.

It was the first time he had ever given evidence in a court proceeding on the case.

"I also had the opportunity to assess Mr Peros' credibility and reliability while he gave evidence," Mr O'Connell said.

John Peros has been named the person responsible for his former girlfriend Shandee Blackburn’s death.
John Peros has been named the person responsible for his former girlfriend Shandee Blackburn’s death.

At the time of Shandee's death, Mr Peros was a qualified diesel fitter at Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal and an accomplished amateur middleweight boxer.

"He demonstrated significant boxing prowess, achieving third place at the National Boxing Titles in November 2012.

The court heard a former coach said Mr Peros had fast hands and was capable of throwing "quick" and "explosive" punches.

He had no criminal history or any reported domestic violence history.

Mr O'Connell said Mr Peros and Ms Blackburn had been in a tumultuous relationship from about mid 2011 until the end of 2011 - the pair got back together briefly in 2012 before breaking up for good.

Shandee Blackburn and John Peros at Dreamworld. Date unknown.
Shandee Blackburn and John Peros at Dreamworld. Date unknown.

The court heard Mr Peros sought psychological and psychiatric help for this and other issues in his life.

"On the evidence I have I find Mr Peros did have significant difficulty with the relationship ending - even though he was the instigator of that - and had troubles with simply moving on," Mr O'Connell said.

Former boyfriend of Shandee Blackburn John Peros
Former boyfriend of Shandee Blackburn John Peros

On the day before Shandee's death Mr Peros went boating with friends at Seaforth in the morning, went to a work barbecue at Mackay Harbour and was home by mid afternoon.

The court heard he said he did not go out that night "although he might have gone for a drive" and made comments about his "terrible memory".

"It is clear from his statement that he could remember, with quite some detail, what he had done … during the day," Mr O'Connell said.

When asked if he had been driving his car in specific streets near the place where Shandee was attacked, he said "I don't remember".

Mr Peros only owned one vehicle - a white Toyota Hilux dual cab ute alleged to be the same vehicle captured in certain CCTV footage driving near and away from the scene of the fatal stabbing.

Police twice seized Mr Peros' ute and used it to recreate the vehicle of interest's route.

A series of side-by-side images compared the two vehicles at the various locations throughout the city.

Images show the original footage, re-enactment, and scenes of crime photos of a 706LHN 1994 Toyota Hilux compiled for the inquest into Shandee Blackburn's death.
Images show the original footage, re-enactment, and scenes of crime photos of a 706LHN 1994 Toyota Hilux compiled for the inquest into Shandee Blackburn's death.

"I have had the advantage of physically inspecting the vehicle … Indeed, I have not just viewed it but have crawled under it, over it, and through it. I am very familiar with its physical attributes," Mr O'Connell said.

When asked if the ute of the CCTV footage was his, Mr Peros said he simply "can't tell".

In his coronial findings, Mr O'Connell highlighted a number of similarities shared by both vehicles including a "unique" rust spot on the tailgate and a missing driver's side front wheel flare.

"I have carefully considered, and then dismissed, any other possibility as being fanciful and unsupported by the evidence when viewed objectively," Mr O'Connell said.

"It was not some random vehicle with similar features to Mr Peros' vehicle which was seen driving down Twelfth Lane - it was Mr Peros' vehicle."

Images show the original footage, re-enactment, and scenes of crime photos of a 706LHN 1994 Toyota Hilux compiled for the inquest into Shandee Blackburn's death.
Images show the original footage, re-enactment, and scenes of crime photos of a 706LHN 1994 Toyota Hilux compiled for the inquest into Shandee Blackburn's death.

Six minutes after entering the Struthers end of Sydney St, CCTV footage captured the ute leaving via the southern end of Sydney St, after the running figure had recrossed the road.

Mr O'Connell said the vehicle turned left onto Evan St and out of any camera view - at the time Mr Peros lived on Evan St.

About 10 minutes later, the ute is spotted turning onto the Bruce Hwy heading out of town.

It returns about two hours later.

"I am very much alive to the implications this could have, it is not a decision I make lightly nor quickly, but I have done so first considering all of the evidence and the weight of that evidence," Mr O'Connell said.

"I have also been careful to exclude any reasonable alternate possibility, no matter how slight but not merely theoretical or fanciful."

Images show the original footage, re-enactment, and scenes of crime photos of a 706LHN 1994 Toyota Hilux compiled for the inquest into Shandee Blackburn's death.
Images show the original footage, re-enactment, and scenes of crime photos of a 706LHN 1994 Toyota Hilux compiled for the inquest into Shandee Blackburn's death.

The court heard Mr Peros had told police he "might have gone for a drive but I think I spent most of the night at home".

"At no stage did he say, nor was it ever suggested to me, that he leant his vehicle to any other person, that his vehicle was stolen or unlawfully used by another nor taken without his knowledge," Mr O'Connell said.

"The logical and only reasonable conclusion to which I am persuaded, is that it was Mr Person who was driving his own vehicle that evening."

Images show the original footage, re-enactment, and scenes of crime photos of a 706LHN 1994 Toyota Hilux compiled for the inquest into Shandee Blackburn's death.
Images show the original footage, re-enactment, and scenes of crime photos of a 706LHN 1994 Toyota Hilux compiled for the inquest into Shandee Blackburn's death.

Mr O'Connell said CCTV footage showed no other vehicle stopped near the loitering figure outside the Girl Guides hut. Except for Mr Peros' ute.

No one is seen to walk through and not exit the area, the court heard.

"As a matter of common sense, and experience, it necessarily follows that the person loitering near the Girl Guide hut has some connection with the vehicle which has stopped somewhere behind the Guides Hut," Mr O'Connell said.

And as this person hides in the bushes, Shandee walks by on the other side of the street towards the vacant block of land, which she crosses to reach Boddington St.

The figure dashes across the road and part of the vacant lot before going out of sight for 33 seconds.

The figure re-emerges on security footage running towards the lower end of Sydney St.

"What can be discerned is that the person is very agile, and is running with distinct purpose," Mr O'Connell said.

Security footage of Shandee Blackburn leaving Harrup Park Country Club. Photo: Contributed
Security footage of Shandee Blackburn leaving Harrup Park Country Club. Photo: Contributed

On the issue of whether the running figure would have had time to attack Shandee in 33 seconds, Mr O'Connell found the person did.

"I find that the person seen running in the video across Juliet St and the grass paddock is the person who interacted with Miss Blackburn, and that they did have sufficient time to do it," Mr O'Connell said.

"On consideration of all of the evidence available at this inquest, I have no doubt that the vehicle of interest, which drove in beside the United Service Station some six minutes before Miss Blackburn was attacked, was Mr Peros' vehicle.

 

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"For the reasons I have set out, I have no doubt whatsoever that Mr Peros was the driver.

"I find the sequence of events, as captured by CCTV at 18 Juliet St, points directly to the driver of that vehicle - Mr Peros - as being the person who concealed himself in the foliage outside the Guides Hut while Miss Blackburn passed.

"Then ran towards her as she was entering or about to enter Boddington St, and is the person who attacked Miss Blackburn and caused the injuries which resulted in her death."

John Peros leaves the Shandee Blackburn inquest on day four.
John Peros leaves the Shandee Blackburn inquest on day four.

It was suggested to Mr O'Connell that there was no conclusive DNA evidence and a lack of DNA or blood in Mr Peros' car excluded him.

"That is certainly a theoretical possibility, but the absence of blood in a car may also be explained by the person involved simply having very little or no blood from her injuries transmitted to them," Mr O'Connell said.

"It was put to me that there was no evidence of motive for Mr Peros to be engaged in this violent interaction with Miss Blackburn. With great respect, there was ample evidence."

Mr O'Connell said the pair had a tumultuous relationship punctuated with issues - and even though Mr Peros ended the coupling "he clearly had very significant difficulties" after the relationship ended and consulted two mental health professionals to deal with lingering emotional issues.

Shandee Blackburn (middle), with her sister Shannah (left) and her mother Vicki Blackburn.
Shandee Blackburn (middle), with her sister Shannah (left) and her mother Vicki Blackburn.

Mr O'Connell told the court he had approached the case "methodically, slowly and in a considered way", weighing up all submissions and considering all reasonable possibilities.

He said he then reached a final conclusion "to which I am persuaded to a standard which approached beyond reasonable doubt".