THE mother of a 20-year-old man bashed to death for his wallet and shoes more than 16 years ago says her ''baby'' can finally rest in peace now his attacker has been jailed.
The cold case, which had baffled police for more than 12 years, was solved after DNA found on a pair of discarded running shoes was matched with a swab given by a man arrested for being drunk while riding a stolen bicycle in Queensland.
Yesterday, Darren Paul Smith was sentenced to a non-parole period of 12 years for the murder of Russell Lyons, a labourer who died from severe head injuries in a Fairfield car park on June 3, 1995.
The NSW Supreme Court heard Smith not only took Mr Lyons's wallet but also, on seeing his own Adidas runners were covered in blood, took the victim's Asics shoes and discarded his own pair a short distance from the crime scene.
At the time, the police found traces of the offender's DNA on the inside tongue of one of the Adidas shoes and around the rear right pocket of the jeans Mr Lyons was wearing.
However, a match was not found until Smith's DNA profile was entered into the national database in 2008 following his arrest for larceny outside a pub in Bowen, far north Queensland.
In sentencing Smith to a maximum of 18 years in prison, Justice Terence Buddin said Smith had taken the ''life of an entirely innocent and blameless young man''.
Outside the court, Mr Lyons's elderly mother, Lorraine, said the conviction and sentence ''puts my son to rest''.
''I've been waiting 16 years for this and I didn't think it was ever going to happen,'' she said.
Mr Lyons's brother Jason said the family had suffered during the years the killer remained free.
''I turned to alcohol and anger for a few years … I was wondering if he was still out there, knowing he could have done it to someone else.''
Justice Buddin said about 3.30am Smith attempted to steal Mr Lyons's wallet on The Crescent, Fairfield, which resulted in a fracas between the two men and three unidentified ''islander men''.
Mr Lyons, who was intoxicated, was then pursued by Smith into the car park at the end of a laneway and fatally struck in the back of the head.
Smith's lawyers argued the fatal blow was caused by one of the unidentified other men. It was also put that the DNA from Mr Lyons on the Adidas shoes and from Smith inside the jeans pocket was the result of contamination or secondary transference when the exhibits were all put in the same bagduring the investigation.