More than a decade after losing their schoolboy son Daniel, Queensland parents Bruce and Denise Morcombe have come face to face with his alleged killer.
The Sunshine Coast couple were so close to accused man Brett Peter Cowan when he walked past their seats in the Supreme Court public gallery on Monday, they could have touched him.
Dressed in a grey suit jacket, navy trousers and striped tie, Cowan, 44, did not return the Morcombes’ gaze as he entered the dock for the opening of his long-awaited murder trial.
Mr and Mrs Morcombe have relentlessly campaigned for justice since Daniel vanished in 2003 aged 13, and said outside court they felt closer to discovering what happened.
They were allowed to sit in the crowded courtroom with sons Bradley and Dean, and supporters as Cowan entered a plea. But they had to leave soon after because they are witnesses.
“(After) 10 years, two months and three days we find ourselves here, so it’s been a long grind,” Mr Morcombe told reporters before he entered court.
“But we certainly thank the media, police, the SES and the community for getting us to this point and we’ll see what the next few weeks unfold.”
The couple are set to be the first witnesses to give evidence in the trial, which is expected to run for six weeks.
Three undercover police officers from Western Australia, State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers and a bus driver from Daniel’s home suburb of Palmwoods are among 158 potential witnesses who could be called to give evidence.
Cowan, whose alias is Shaddo N-unyah Hunter, pleaded not guilty to indecently dealing with Daniel and murdering him on December 7, 2003 at the Glass House Mountains in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
He also pleaded not guilty to interfering with Daniel’s corpse.
Eleven people originally selected on the jury raised concerns about their place on the panel after Justice Roslyn Atkinson told anyone who thought they could not be impartial to come forward.
Six were excused.
The judge warned the jury of six men and six women who were eventually selected – as well as three reserve jurors – to ignore the publicity surrounding the case and focus only on the evidence.
“This is a daunting task and no doubt on Friday when you thought about what you were doing next week I don’t imagine too many of you thought you would be sitting exactly where you’re sitting now,” she said.
The prosecution is expected to open its case when the trial resumes on Tuesday.
Daniel disappeared while waiting for a bus at Woombye on the Sunshine Coast in 2003, as he planned to buy family Christmas presents.