Drug trafficker placed on suspended sentence for his role as caretaker of ‘substantial’ marijuana crops in Southern Downs.
Drug trafficker placed on suspended sentence for his role as caretaker of ‘substantial’ marijuana crops in Southern Downs.

Drug trafficker walks free after pleading guilty

A MEMBER of the trio arrested on drug charges linked to the cold case murders of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters has walked free, despite a guilty plea.

Warren Peter McDonald, 45, appeared in the Toowoomba District Court yesterday and pleaded guilty to two counts of drug trafficking.

A large police presence swarmed properties in Yangan and Emu Vale last August, with McDonald charged along with alleged co-offenders Vincent O'Dempsey and Keith Patrick McVeigh in October.

The raids were related to the reopening of the cold case investigations into the disappearance of Mrs McCulkin and her daughters - aged 11 and 13 - in 1974.

O'Dempsey has been charged with murder, deprivation of liberty and other charges relating to the deaths.

During court proceedings yesterday, Crown Prosecutor David Jones told the court the size of the crops were "substantial" but the Crown conceded McDonald had not been the principal offender and that there were others above him in the operation.

McDonald's role had been to look after the crop during the growing stage and to help with preparation for harvest and sale, the court heard.

Mr Jones said the Crown also acknowledged McDonald had no other criminal history at all and more than a decade had passed since he "got out of the game".

Defence barrister Peter Callaghan SC told the court his client had been led into this criminal activity by his own father.

It was also an important fact that his client voluntarily desisted in such activities long before he was charged with the matters in November last year, he submitted.

McDonald had established a "pattern of rehabilitation" himself over the 11 years, which had since passed and a number of people had provided references in which they spoke highly of him.

Mr Callaghan submitted not many accused who appeared before the courts on such charges had made a significant contribution to the local school of arts as his client had.

Judge Ian Dearden accepted McDonald had been in the "middle of the criminal enterprise hierarchy" involved in the growing of the marijuana crops and that he had pursued an honest career in employment in the 11 years since his involvement.

Acknowledging his pleas of guilty at the earliest possible opportunity and his lack of criminal history prior and subsequent to the offences, Judge Dearden sentenced McDonald to three and a half years jail but ordered the whole term be suspended forthwith for four years.

McDonald was arrested and charged after police investigating the McCulkin cold case found a large amount of marijuana leaf and money on a property near Warwick.

Head of that investigation Detective Acting Superintendent Mick Dowie was in Toowoomba District Court for the sentencing of McDonald.

Alleged co-offenders O'Dempsey and McVeigh had their matters mentioned in the Warwick Magistrates Court this week.

They have been scheduled back in the court on June 15.