SMALL but significant steps have been made towards possible freedom for a young Australian man sentenced to 20 years in a Bulgarian jail.
Paul "Jock" Palfreeman, who grew up in Mosman, was last year found guilty of murdering Bulgarian law student Andrei Monov, 20, and severely wounding Anton Zahariev, 19, during a drunken brawl on December 28, 2007 in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.
Palfreeman has always pleaded innocence, claiming he used a knife in self-defence after being set upon by a gang of 16 drunk football fans when he tried to stop them attacking a young gypsy.
Palfreeman appeared in the Sofia central court yesterday to fight the 20-year sentence handed to him in December last year.
His fate rests with the testimonies from witnesses who were last night re-questioned by an appeal judge.
It had emerged that their original police statements that the gang had attacked a gypsy before attacking Palfreeman had changed from their statements during the first trial where they claimed there had been "a small fuss" with a gypsy.
Two of the witness yesterday blamed the discrepancies in their testimonies as a result of "shock" and "forgetfulness".
For Palfreeman's father, yesterday's court appearance raised his faith in a justice system he has previously described as "flawed".
"It really is the verdict that counts, but I do feel this court appears much more professional," Dr Simon Palfreeman said.
"We just have to be quietly hopeful this will progress to a much better outlook for Jock."
The court was adjourned until November 25 after three of the five witnesses failed to turn up.
Two are former police officers that have left the force and the third is a member of the gang who is believed to be studying in Germany.
Despite a lack of major progress yesterday, the court appearance "raised Jock's morale", his father said.
Since that fateful night just under three years ago, the 23-year-old former St Ignatius Riverview College student has been held in a crowded Sofia jail cell where friends and family must provide fresh food and bed linen, and where he has no phone or internet access and receives visitors twice a month.
On the eve of his latest attempt at freedom he spent a quiet afternoon in prison chatting to his father.
During the meeting father and son committed to stay positive, but agreed not to let their hopes outweigh the reality of a "flawed" Eastern European justice system that has so far dealt the young man blow after blow.
"It has been very hard on him," Dr Palfreeman said.
"Not just the fact he has been in prison for three years but that he has had this constant barrage from local media that he is a wanton murderer.
"We know we had such big disappointment over the first trial that we are not getting too excited by this.
"But it is a very important step forward. It is another step forward in the process."