Appeal for woman jailed for mowing down ex

Janice Bufton is appealing her conviction and sentence for murdering her ex-partner.
Janice Bufton is appealing her conviction and sentence for murdering her ex-partner.

A Victorian woman jailed for murdering her ex-partner by stealing his ute and running him down did not get a fair trial, the Court of Appeal has heard.

In 2017, Janice Bufton was furious after her lover of less than two years, Colin Snooks, said he was leaving her and "heading north", and she jumped into his Holden Rodeo and drove down the driveway of her Grampians property.

The bonnet of the ute hit Mr Snooks and he was crushed under its wheels, dying of his injuries a short time later.

Bufton was jailed for 24 years, but is appealing against her conviction and sentence.

Her lawyer told three appeal judges in Melbourne on Monday that the verdict in her trial was unsafe, and that Mr Snooks may have caused his own death by jumping from the driveway onto the grass verge and into the path of the ute.

"Although she intended to drive around him, he came across her path," lawyer Richard Edney told the court.

He argued that Bufton had "steered gradually" and had not swerved into Mr Snooks, as shown by the tyre prints the ute left on the grass.

Mr Edney said close examination of the evidence of key witnesses "open up the possibility that this was an accident, a tragic accident ... the murder verdict is unsafe for that reason."

The jury should have been unable to exclude the possibility of an accident, he said, and the trial judge had not adequately instructed it on issues of causation.

But a friend of Mr Snooks, Benjamin Weston, saw the whole incident and yelled "watch out!" as the ute approached.

Mr Weston had told the trial jury that Bufton was "incandescent with rage" when she violently gunned the ute and took off at 40 to 50 km/h.

His evidence made an otherwise strong case for murder "overwhelming", the Crown argued.

"This is a very deliberate running down and not an accident," crown lawyers said.

Bufton's lawyer also argued that her sentence was too harsh, because she was 70 years old and has had cancer.

Her crime was not premeditated, and she had led an otherwise "blameless and productive life", Mr Edney said.

Bufton listened to proceedings via videolink from custody.

Her appeal has been adjourned to a later date.

Australian Associated Press