The crown has acknowledged that a New Zealand man who spent 19 years in prison for murder should have his conviction quashed and that there was a substantial miscarriage of justice after key evidence was not disclosed in the original trial.
Alan Hall, who has autism, was convicted at age 23 of the murder of Arthur Easton in his Papakura home in 1985. Easton had been stabbed by an intruder and the murder weapon – a bayonet – and a woollen hat were found at the scene.
Hall told the police he owned the bayonet and woollen hat, but he denied ever setting foot on Easton’s property. For 37 years he has been trying to clear his name, and on Wednesday he will appear before the supreme court, after a second appeal to his conviction was raised. The court is expected to quash his conviction.
In its submission to the supreme court, the crown said it accepted that Hall’s appeal should be allowed, and verdicts of acquittal entered.
“The crown accepts that a substantial miscarriage of justice occurred in Mr Hall’s case, and that his convictions should be quashed,” it submitted. “In the extraordinary circumstances of this case, no order for a retrial is sought. Directed acquittals are invited.”
On the night of the murder, and in subsequent interviews, a key witness told police the man he saw running from the property was “definitely dark-skinned, he was not white”. He said the man was Māori, and even when Hall, who is pākehā – or European descent – became the subject of police’s attention, the witness maintained his observation. This observation was echoed by Easton’s two teenage sons who were home at the time of the stabbing and also wounded.
According to the crown submissions, reference to the witness’ description was removed from his witness statement, without his knowledge. His description was only given by authorities to the defence seven months after Hall’s first appeal in 1987 failed. Further information, that the crown now views as important and disclosable, was also withheld.
“The crown acknowledges the unacceptable truth that an unanswerable cause of miscarriage here, and of unfair trial, was deliberate failure by those responsible for the prosecution to disclose material that would have plainly been important in Mr Hall’s defence.”
The crown also said that the police’s interviewing techniques were “extremely lengthy” and conducted without Hall having representation present. “The crown accepts that there was a point where, more likely than not, the interviews became unfair and oppressive.”
Hall’s lawyer, Nicholas Chisnall, said: “It is not hyperbolic to assert that a starker example of a trial gone wrong would be hard to find.”
Chisnall commended the crown for acknowledging the harm done, but said the state had known since 1988 about the “profoundly unfair” way the prosecution dealt with disclosure before Hall’s trial. That it had done nothing up to now was “an indictment on the integrity of New Zealand’s criminal justice system”, he added.