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Two men convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for grisly killings

The pair, who had a deep hatred of pedophiles and homosexuals, boasted that the "good ones" didn't scream as they were tortured, according to testimony at the trial


September 8, 2003

ADELAIDE, Australia — Two men were convicted Monday for their roles in one of Australia's most grisly serial killing sprees and sentenced to life imprisonment.

A South Australian Supreme Court jury found John Justin Bunting, 37, guilty of 11 murders in the "bodies-in-barrels" case that shocked the nation.

The jury, which deliberated for almost a week following a trial that lasted nearly a year, also convicted Robert Joe Wagner, 31, in seven of the murders.

Wagner had pleaded guilty to three other counts of murder before the trial.

The men were arrested after police found eight hacked-up bodies stuffed in barrels and hidden in an defunct bank vault in Snowtown, a small village near the South Australia state capital Adelaide.

Two more bodies were found buried in a suburban Adelaide backyard, and two were found in other places that have not been disclosed.

Most of the victims, killed over 20 months from October 1997, were t

ortured before being killed. The murders are believed to be Australia's worst ever serial killings, and sparked a level of media interest not seen since the so-called "backpacker murders" of 1989 to 1992, in which seven people, including some foreign tourists, were killed. Ivan Milat is currently serving seven life sentences without parole for those slayings.

Bunting had been charged with 12 murders and Wagner with taking part in eight of the slayings, but the jury said they could not reach a verdict on one of the murder counts.

Prosecutors say the victims were murdered so that their killers could cash their welfare checks, but also for enjoyment. Both Bunting and Wagner also allegedly targeted people they believed were pedophiles.

During the trial, which began Oct. 16 last year and heard testimony from more than 200 witnesses, the jury heard that some victims had limbs severed and slabs of flesh cut from their bodies.

They were also shown photographs of the remains of some of the victims.

Bunting and Wagner pushed a lit cigarette into the ear of one victim and used pliers to break the toes of another, prosecutors said.

The pair, who had a deep hatred of pedophiles and homosexuals, boasted that the "good ones" didn't scream as they were tortured, according to testimony at the trial.

Another two men have been charged with some of the murders.

James Spyridon Vlassakis pleaded guilty last year to four murders and was sentenced to a minimum of 26 years in prison.

Mark Ray Haydon faces three counts of murder. No date has been set for his trial. –Sapa-AP


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