Leanne Sleba was shot by her husband Geoffrey as they searched for a brown snake.
Leanne Sleba was shot by her husband Geoffrey as they searched for a brown snake.

‘Recipe for disaster’: Never charged after shooting wife

A FRUSTRATED former coroner is urging police to reinvestigate the death of a Toowoomba mother who was shot in the back by her husband when a snake slithered over his foot.

No charges were ever laid against Geoffrey Sleba, who years later was jailed for causing someone else's death - a cyclist he hit with his truck.

Mother of four Leanne Sleba was 33 when she was killed in 2008 by her husband as he carried a loaded shotgun with his finger on the trigger while the pair searched for a brown snake.

Her death was examined by a coroner in 2011 but no determination was made on how "the firearm came to be discharged and whether or not the events occurred by accident".

Retired coroner John Hutton said he has been in contact with police over Leanne's death and compared it to a case in Victoria where a man was jailed for manslaughter after accidentally shooting his friend.

 

Geoffrey Sleba was carrying a loaded shotgun when a snake slithered over his foot.
Geoffrey Sleba was carrying a loaded shotgun when a snake slithered over his foot.

 

Victorian farmer Angelo Russo stumbled - possibly on an eggplant - as he approached his friend David Calandro with a loaded shotgun. The gun fired, killing Mr Calandro.

The farmer was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years jail with a minimum of two and a half years.

Mr Hutton said it was "absolutely" unusual that no charges had been laid against Geoffrey at all.

He said Leanne's death was "the same" as the accidental shooting of the Victorian farmer.

"My heart goes out to her," he said.

"There's a case where, in similar circumstances, we have someone charged and found guilty of manslaughter.

"This is the same.

"She was in front of him. What the hell was she doing in front of him (while he was carrying) a shotgun?"

The 2011 inquest into Leanne's death heard a police investigation conducted by local detectives had been very thorough but led to no charges being laid.

Retired coroner John Hutton. Pic: Peter Wallis
Retired coroner John Hutton. Pic: Peter Wallis

The court heard Leanne arrived home with the children to the family's property at Kingsthorpe at 8pm on April 24.

Her husband came home about an hour later, telling his wife he'd spotted a brown snake going into the shed.

They searched for it but couldn't find it and returned to the house to have dinner.

Geoffrey would later tell police he and his wife returned to the shed around 10pm to search again. On the way he grabbed a Boita 12 gauge shotgun and loaded it.

He said Leanne reversed her car out of the shed so they could better search, then drove it back in again. She got out of her car and was walking in front of her husband when he said a brown snake slithered over his foot.

He said he jumped in shock, accidentally firing the gun into his wife's back.

The inquest heard from snake expert Jeanette Covacevich, who said it was "extremely unlikely" a snake would be active so late at night in cold temperatures.

"It is possible but very, very unlikely," she told the inquest. "Extremely, extremely, extremely unlikely."

Leanne Sleba, far right, was helping her husband look for a snake. Picture: Supplied
Leanne Sleba, far right, was helping her husband look for a snake. Picture: Supplied

Another snake expert, Rodney Hobson, said even if a snake was out, it would be very sluggish, unless it had warmed up under the fridge and freezer inside the shed. But he also argued a snake would not come out from such a hiding spot unless the item was moved.

And a third expert, Richard Jackson, said a brown snake would steer away from "something big and moving" like Geoffrey.

Firearm safety expert Graham Lippert said carrying a loaded shotgun in the way Geoffrey described "was a recipe for disaster".

He said the Boito was an unusual choice if you intended to shoot a snake on a concrete floor because there was a high chance the pellets would ricochet and "would be dangerous to anyone in the near vicinity, including the shooter, depending on the angle from which the shot was fired".

The inquest heard that although Geoffrey claimed he was four to five metres behind his wife when he fired the gun, the wound on her back indicated the end of the barrel was just 50cm from her body.

The shotgun was said to have a trigger pressure of 2.6kg, although Geoffrey told police he "sort of jumped, touched it, the gun went off" when he was startled by the snake.

The inquest heard family members described Leanne and Geoffrey's relationship as "healthy", although the police investigation revealed Leanne had moved out for a week a year earlier because of marital problems.

Geoffrey was excused from giving evidence at the inquest into his wife's death because of an "acute psychotic disorder" that saw him hospitalised a month before the hearing.

 

Geoffrey Sleba was jailed over the hit and run death of a cyclist in 2014. Picture: Jonno Colfs
Geoffrey Sleba was jailed over the hit and run death of a cyclist in 2014. Picture: Jonno Colfs

 

Three years after the inquest, Geoffrey was again the centre of a police investigation following the hit and run death of vet and cyclist Dr Martin Pearson.

Dr Pearson's body was found on the side of the Inglewood Millmerran Rd, 150km southwest of Toowoomba, on April 25, 2014, by a passing motorist.

Police determined Dr Pearson was hit from behind by a vehicle that did not stop. Nearby, they found a 50 watt spotlight that had been ripped from the vehicle at the time of impact.

At Geoffrey's house, police found the remaining spotlight that had been removed from the truck. Small amounts of blood were found on the truck's bulbar.

He was charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death and leaving the scene of a crash.

A jury found him guilty of the first charge but accepted his explanation that he was unaware he'd hit someone.

Judge Leanne Clare sentenced Geoffrey, then 47, to three years jail, suspended after 13 months, saying Dr Pearson was in his line of sight for 13 seconds before the truck ran him down. She said it was a sunny day and Dr Pearson had been wearing a reflector vest.

"That is a very long time in terms of an opportunity for an alert driver to notice a traveller in the same lane," she said.

Geoffrey has since been released from prison and is back home with his family.

Leanne Sleba's parents declined to comment when contacted by The Courier-Mail.