Commutation: Life in Prison for Killer in Infamous “River Murder” Case

Melbourne, Victoria – Eric Stanley Jacobi was convicted of a brutal robbery and murder, with his sentence being changed from hanging to life in prison due to a secret report that was presented to Victoria’s premier and his cabinet. Jacobi admitted to robbing and killing a 19-year-old man, who was an orphan and had a disability, by knocking him unconscious and leaving him to drown in a river. The Crown prosecutor labeled it as “one of the most dastardly, cowardly and callous crimes in the history of Victoria.”

Newspapers at the time reported Jacobi’s forthcoming execution, but his sentence was ultimately commuted after the emergence of the secret report. Norman Hurley, the victim, was found floating in the Maribyrnong River near Flemington Racecourse after being missing for 10 days. He had suffered four blows to the head with a heavy object and had likely been dragged or stumbled into the river, where he drowned.

Jacobi initially denied any knowledge of Hurley’s disappearance or the cash he was known to carry, but he eventually confessed to luring the victim under the pretense of selling him a truck. He admitted to hitting Hurley with an iron bar and stealing his wallet before leaving him and tossing the empty wallet. A subsequent search led police to recover the murder weapon from the river, and Jacobi was swiftly found guilty and sentenced to death.

Six weeks later, Jacobi’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison for reasons that remain undisclosed. The medical report that led to this decision was sealed from the public for 75 years and described Jacobi as “a meek and mild man” with an IQ of 69, a stark contrast to the image of a callous killer that was portrayed in court. Unfortunately, Jacobi died in 1975, following his life sentence.

This case raises questions about the use of the death penalty and the government’s decision-making process in such matters. The emergence of the medical report challenged the public’s perception of Jacobi, shedding light on the complexities of criminal cases and sentencing decisions. Jacobi’s life ultimately ended in prison, free from the hangman’s noose but haunted by the events that led to his conviction.