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Estranged husband pleads guilty to dousing mum Kelly with petrol, setting her alight

The estranged husband of Kelly Wilkinson, who was doused in petrol and set alight, has pleaded guilty to her murder less than a month before his scheduled trial.

Feb 14, 2024, updated Feb 14, 2024
Kelly Wilkinson and her alleged killer, estranged husband Brian Earl Johnston, on their wedding day. (Photo: Supplied)

Kelly Wilkinson and her alleged killer, estranged husband Brian Earl Johnston, on their wedding day. (Photo: Supplied)

Brian Earl Johnston, 37, appeared before Brisbane Supreme Court on Wednesday via video link for arraignment on one count of murdering Ms Wilkinson on April 20, 2021 in a Gold Coast backyard as a domestic violence offence.

Justice Peter Callaghan asked Johnston to repeat his plea of guilty as it was not clear on the video link from custody.

Prosecutors previously alleged Johnston tied up Ms Wilkinson, a mother of three then aged 27, before setting her alight at her Arundel home.

The former US marine was previously also charged with breaching a domestic violence order and his bail conditions.

Johnston was arrested two blocks from the home suffering burns to his hands.

In court on Wednesday, Johnston did not respond when asked if he wanted to say anything as to why sentence should not be passed upon him.

Defence barrister Kim Bryson said she had agreed with crown prosecutor Philip McCarthy that March 13 would be suitable for a sentencing hearing.

“There are some factual matters that remain contested in relation to the background of the relationship … we have been frustrated in our efforts to get out to the prison due to the lockdowns that have occurred,” Ms Bryson said.

Mr McCarthy said there was also a contest of facts over the motivation for Johnston murdering Ms Wilkinson.

The family of Kelly Wilkinson depart a vigil (file image)
Ms Wilkinson’s murder sparked community outrage as she had sought domestic violence protection. (Dave Hunt/AAP PHOTOS)
Justice Callaghan said he could change the sentencing date if needed and ordered that Johnston remain in custody.

Johnston’s former co-worker Bradley Bell, was charged in July 2021 with murder for allegedly providing assistance that was instrumental in the crime.

The 28-year-old Pimpama man was at that time accused of driving Johnston to a petrol station to obtain fuel before the pair drove to Ms Wilkinson’s home.

Bell’s case is due to be mentioned in the Supreme Court on March 13.

Ms Wilkinson’s murder sparked community outrage as she had sought domestic violence protection from Johnston in the weeks before her death.

At the time she was the third Queensland woman to die after allegedly being set on fire by abusive partners in the space of 12 months.

Businesswoman Tamika Smith set up a community fundraiser to build a new home for Ms Wilkinson’s children and mining magnate Clive Palmer donated vacant land at Hope Island.

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