A man accused of murdering a young woman with whom he was entangled in a love triangle has been bailed despite a judge finding he sought to influence a prosecution witness.
Leisl Smith, 23, was last seen alive on CCTV getting into the car of James Scott Church, the man whose unborn child she claimed to be carrying, at Tuggerah railway station on the Central Coast on the afternoon of August 19, 2012.
Mr Church, now 49, was arrested in October last year on allegations he "lured" her into his car on the promise of providing her a home and drove her north-west towards Sandy Hollow, a town in the Upper Hunter.
It's alleged that he killed her and dumped her body sometime on August 19 or 20, although no body has been found, nor has a cause of death been identified.
Mr Church previously told police he picked Ms Smith up at her request, told her the relationship between them was over, and dropped her off in Wyong near the home of her boyfriend, Craig Elkin.
The court heard that in the months before her disappearance Ms Smith told Mr Church's then-girlfriend that she was pregnant with his child and the baby was due in December.
Mr Church allegedly told police he was aware Ms Smith claimed to be pregnant but denied asking her to terminate the pregnancy, adding he wasn't convinced he was the father.
It is the Crown's case that Mr Church killed Ms Smith because of the damage she was doing to his reputation.
The court heard that days before she disappeared Ms Smith played her father, Storm Smith, a voice message from a man he believed was Mr Church, saying he had prepared a house for her and that "everything's going to be okay".
"He's playing with my head, Dad, I can't take this," Ms Smith allegedly told Mr Smith.
It's alleged that following her disappearance someone pretending to be Ms Smith composed a message "in hateful terms" to her father.
It is the Crown's case either Mr Church or someone acting on his behalf was pretending she was alive by using her phone to send messages to her father and boyfriend, Justice Fullerton said.
Mr Elkin and Mr Smith tried calling her a number of times without calls being returned, the court heard.
The Crown argued Ms Smith didn't fake her own death as she has not accessed her bank account, claimed Medicare benefits or used her Facebook account, and had not shown up on other government or utility databases that could hint to her being alive.
But Mr Church's lawyer, Manny Conditsis, said during his client's bail application this month that several unconfirmed sightings of Ms Smith in the intervening years weakened the case against him.
NSW Supreme Court Judge Elizabeth Fullerton said there was "some force" in Mr Conditsis's argument the prosecution's evidence "is not conclusive of Ms Smith's death or his client's involvement in it".
"The Crown case can't be described as one of overwhelming strength," Justice Fullerton said.
Mr Conditsis also argued Ms Smith could still be alive but didn't want to be found, or that she had been murdered by Mr Elkin, who has since died.
The court heard Mr Church co-opted his friend Clayton Evans into providing a false alibi about his whereabouts at the time of Ms Smith's disappearance.
It's alleged he contacted Mr Evans soon after detectives warned him not to do so during a police interview in April 2013.
The court heard the pair met at a holiday park in Nelson Bay the following month, where Mr Evans said he had lied to police and Mr Church telling him to explain it away by saying he had made a mistake.
Following Mr Church's arrest his current partner told police to pass on a message to him, saying she had "called the person he wanted her to call" and [Mr Evans] hadn't spoken to anyone in the past 12 months.
Justice Fullerton agreed Mr Church continuously tried to contact Mr Evans and sought to interfere with the police investigation by setting up a false alibi.
"He actively sought to influence Mr Evans' account of events," Justice Fullerton said.
But she said the risk of him doing so again could be mitigated by appropriate conditions, such as supplying police with his telephone number, not approaching prosecution witnesses, reporting to police three times a week, and abiding by a nightly curfew.
His parents have also provided a $800,000 surety to be forfeited in the event he breaches his bail.
- The Sydney Morning Herald