George Ridgeway attempted to murder his wife Pepita by connecting a nitrogen gas cylinder to a hose inside the caravan inside which she was sleeping.
George Ridgeway attempted to murder his wife Pepita by connecting a nitrogen gas cylinder to a hose inside the caravan inside which she was sleeping.

Man who tried to gas wife loses attempted murder appeal

A SUNSHINE Coast man who was jailed for 10 years for attempting to murder his wife, by pumping nitrogen gas into the caravan where she slept, has lost his appeal against conviction.

In June, 2018, a Supreme Court jury found American-born electronics engineer Robert Ridgeway, then 64, guilty of the attempted murder of his wife, Pepita Ridgeway, at Doonan on July 5, 2016.

Ridgeway had hooked up a garden hose with black duct tape, inside the van, and connected it to a nitrogen gas cylinder in the home carport.

Ridgeway appealed against his conviction on four grounds, all of which were unanimously dismissed by three judges in Queensland's Court of Appeal.

At the trial, Pepita Ridgeway told the Supreme Court she woke at 2am on July 5, 2016, in the caravan next to the family's Doonan house, to a hissing, gurgling sound.

She said when she lifted her mattress she found a hose taped underneath and traced it from the caravan to a hissing nitrogen gas cylinder in the carport.

Mrs Ridgeway, who had seen a lawyer about a divorce the day before, said she then went to her brother's home nearby and called Triple Zero.

On July 1, 2016, Mrs Ridgeway sent her husband of 18 years an email telling him she was going to see a lawyer about a divorce and she did so on July 4.

In the days leading up to July 5, Ridgeway - who jointly owned four properties in the US with his wife - did Internet searches on "nitrogen gas hazards" and "stroke causes in female spouses" and bought a bigger nitrogen gas bottle.

George Ridgeway attempted to murder his wife Pepita by connecting a nitrogen gas cylinder to a hose inside the caravan inside which she was sleeping.
George Ridgeway attempted to murder his wife Pepita by connecting a nitrogen gas cylinder to a hose inside the caravan inside which she was sleeping.

When police arrived at the Doonan home on July 5, the gas bottle was not connected to the garden hose.

Ridgeway initially denied knowing about any hose connected to the gas cylinder, which he said he had used to blow heat away while working on a microwave magnetron in his office.

He said he made a drain with a garden hose and duct tape under the van's single bed base, because water had been leaking there from a top hatch.

Mrs Ridgeway said the caravan didn't leak.

Ridgeway told the court, but did not tell police during an interview with him on July 5, 2016, that he had taken two sleeping pills on the night of July 4.

Sentencing Ridgeway, Justice Glenn Martin said he had shown a high degree of premeditation and planning in the "cold and calculated way" he intended to kill his wife.

In his appeal, Ridgeway claimed the guilty verdict was unreasonable or could not be supported by the evidence.

It was claimed the Crown had failed to exclude the hypothesis that Mrs Ridgeway had constructed the apparatus.

Court of Appeal President Justice Walter Sofronoff said it was open to the jury to reject Ridgeway's claim that he had erected the hosing system found in the caravan as a drain.

There was then no innocent explanation for Ridgeway's actions in building equipment to introduce nitrogen into the caravan.

Justice Sofronoff said the jury was entitled to accept Mrs Ridgeway's evidence that she found the hosing connected to the gas cylinder, which was turned on.

He said there was evidence upon which the jury could be satisfied of Ridgeway's guilt.

Ridgeway's appeal in relation to the trial judge's directions about proof of his intent was rejected.

Ridgeway also appealed about the judge's directions about the use of post-offence conduct as proof of his intention. This was also rejected by the appeal court.

Ground four, that there was a failure to distinguish attempted murder from other offending based on the same physical acts, was also rejected.

Justice Sofronoff accepted the Crown's submission that once the jury accepted that Ridgeway connected the gas cylinder to the caravan's interior and opened the cylinder valve to allow nitrogen to enter the caravan, any scenario consistent with innocence of attempted murder was not apparent or suggested in the trial.

Sentencing Ridgeway, Justice Martin said he had shown no remorse and if his wife had not woken up "she may well have died gasping for air".

"There was nothing spur of the moment in this," Justice Martin said.

"There was nothing said by your wife or done by your wife which caused you to act in an unpremeditated way.

"This is obviously something you thought about and thought about carefully."

Justice Martin declared it a serious violent offence, meaning Ridgeway must serve 80 per cent of his sentence.

But the 696 days he had already spent in custody was counted as time already served.


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