3 Apr 2004

Two Solomon Islands youths found not guilty of murdering Australian missionary

9:15 am on 3 April 2004

Two Solomon Islands youths accused of beheading an Australian missionary have been acquitted of his murder.

Lance Gersbach was beheaded with a single blow last May while working alone on a construction site at the Seventh Day Adventist Atoifi Hospital in the remote highlands of Malaita province.

The two young men from a village near the hospital, were arrested within weeks of his death.

Yesterday, Justice John Brown of the country's High Court found the Crown's case against the two had relied on "mere conjecture."

Justice Brown said while the evidence established that Mr Gersbach was murdered, it did not successfully establish who was responsible.

Mr Gersbach's widow and other relatives who attended the first two weeks of the trial, returned to Australia last week and were not in court when the judge acquitted the two youths.