CESSNOCK hitman Ken Brooks was jailed for 38 years today for the ‘‘cold-blooded’’ and ‘‘chilling’’ murder of a defenceless man he had never met.
Justice Elizabeth Fullerton considered jailing the 47-year-old for life, but said the $30,000 contract killing of Tamworth farmer Jeffrey Ryan fell just short of the worst category of murder.
Brooks will be 74 when he is eligible for parole in 2038.
He showed no emotion when the sentence was read or when he was led from Newcastle Supreme Court.
Members of Mr Ryan’s family cried and hugged.
Justice Fullerton said there was overwhelming evidence that Brooks, who maintains his innocence, was the man contracted by Mr Ryan’s wife Helen to travel to the Ryans’ property outside Tamworth on October 23, 2009, to carry out the killing.
Jeffrey Ryan was found dead on the ground by a neighbour near the property’s homestead the morning after the shooting.
He was shot in the back.
Justice Fullerton said the amount of mobile phone traffic between Brooks and Helen Ryan, especially in the days leading up to the murder, established that Brooks was the man who Helen Ryan contracted while telephone tower data tracked Brooks as he made calls and sent text messages while driving from Cessnock to Tamworth on the day of the murder.
Police watched as Helen Ryan delivered the second instalment of $15,000 to Brooks in February 2010.
Helen Ryan, who also pleaded not guilty to murder, was previously jailed for 36 years while her mother, Coralie Coulter, was jailed for 27 years for her role in helping organise the murder.
Helen Ryan’s sister, Ganene Coulter, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and was jailed for 11 years and two months after she agreed to testify against her sister, mother and Brooks.
Justice Fullerton said the killing was ‘‘cold-blooded’’ while the ‘‘bare and chilling fact’’ was that Brooks murdered a defenceless stranger for money.
Outside the court, Mr Ryan’s son Ben said his father was a ‘‘big man with a big heart’’ and no sentence could bring him back.
‘‘I wouldn’t say it’s fair ... we must accept it and try to move on with our lives as best as we can,’’ Mr Ryan said.
He said the family appreciated the efforts of police and prosecutors who launched an extraordinary operation, some of which cannot be reported, to arrest and convict the four offenders.
Evidence to convict ‘overwhelming’
KEN Brooks reckons he’s been ‘‘stitched up big time’’.
At least that’s what the former truck driver from Cessnock told a psychiatrist.
But Brooks hasn’t got anything to complain about.
A jury failed to find a reasonable doubt in the prosecution case and Justice Elizabeth Fullerton described the evidence against him as overwhelming.
In September 2009, Brooks’s girlfriend Joeleen Farrell opened an account at the Cessnock Commonwealth Bank.
Helen Ryan deposited $500 into that account before Farrell withdrew the money and promptly closed the account.
Between April and October 2009, Brooks and Helen Ryan exchanged hundreds of telephone calls and text messages especially in the days leading up to the October 23 shooting.
Brooks told police that he’d never heard of her.
On February 10, 2010, Helen Ryan travelled to Brooks’s Desmond Street home to personally deliver the second instalment of $15,000.
Brooks couldn’t explain to police why a woman would hand him a bag full of money, nor why he would accept it.
‘‘Did you ask the lady what the bag was for?’’ a police officer asked.
‘‘No,’’ Brooks replied.
‘‘Why would someone do that?’’ the officer asked.
‘‘F- - -in’, I don’t know,’’ Brooks said.
The murder weapon was never found, but ballistics tests showed that Jeffrey Ryan was shot by someone wielding a 12-gauge shotgun.
Helen Ryan wanted her husband dead because their marriage had broken down and Mr Ryan had moved out of the homestead and was seeing another woman.
Helen Ryan was also worried about what share of the family farm she stood to lose in the event of a divorce.
She couldn’t find anyone in Tamworth to do the job, but an old acquaintance of her sister’s, Ian ‘‘Sharkie’’ Carroll, put her in contact with Brooks.
Despite Brooks and Mr Carroll exchanging a large number of telephone calls and text messages before and after the murder, Brooks told police he didn’t know who Sharkie was.
Police arrested Helen Ryan in mid-December 2010 and released her on bail while they pulled Brooks in for questioning and later released him.
They continued monitoring the offenders’ phones and carried out an operation, some of the details of which cannot be published.
In short, Helen Ryan was given $15,000, but what she didn’t know was that NSW Police had provided the money.
They watched as she drove to Cessnock and made the drop off on February 10, 2010.
Brooks and Ryan were arrested within seconds of the drop-off.
Brooks will now serve a minimum of 28 years and six months behind bars.
Joeleen Farrell was convicted of hindering a police investigation and received a suspended jail sentence.
She has since breached that sentence and returned to custody.