CANBERRA (Reuters) - A man hanged in 1922 for the murder and rape of a young girl in the southern Australian city of Melbourne was posthumously pardoned for the crime on Tuesday after new tests found crucial evidence against him was flawed.
Authorities in the Victorian state pardoned Colin Campbell Ross, who was hanged for raping and murdering a 12-year old girl and dumping her body in an alley in 1921.
"This really is a tragic case where a miscarriage of justice has resulted in a man being hanged," Victoria's Attorney-General Rob Hulls said on Tuesday. "This pardon is a recognition that there are serious doubts about Mr Ross's conviction for murder."
Australia is a strong opponent of the death penalty, with the last hanging taking place in Melbourne in 1967 when petty criminal Ronald Ryan was executed for his involvement in a prison escape, during which a prison guard was shot dead.
Hulls said the case was a warning to anyone who believed Australia should re-introduce the death penalty, which was formally abolished in Victoria in 1975.
The Ross case has been controversial since he was executed 115 days after his arrest, with witnesses saying he was at work at the time of the crime and with Ross going to the gallows protesting his innocence.
The prosecutors relied on hairs found on a blanket at Ross's home, which experts at the time said came from the murdered girl Alma Tirtschke, and from a jailhouse confession, reported by a fellow inmate who had convictions for perjury.
But a researcher found the hairs used as evidence against Ross in an archive in 1995, and new tests proved they did not come from the murdered girl.
Hulls asked for the case to be reviewed two years ago, resulting in a panel of judges finding the case against Ross was flawed.
Ross's niece Betty Everett, who acted as the family spokesman, said she was relieved to know her uncle was not a killer. "A shadow has been lifted from my heart," Everett told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.
Tirtschke's niece Bettye Arthur told Melbourne's Age newspaper that the case was a tragedy for everyone involved.
"It is a tragedy for everyone involved that the actual perpetrator was not caught, and an innocent man lost his life," she said.
Editing by Michael Perry and Valerie Lee