Top lawyer Greg King took his life, depressed, burnt-out, and haunted by the dead from the cases he had known.
Coroner Garry Evans has released his findings into the death of King, 43, whose body was found on November 3, last year, in Dungarvan Rd, Newlands, Wellington, not far from his Mercedes car.
In the car was a typewritten note that began:
“To everyone: How can I explain the unexplainable?”
It said that after nearly 20 years as a defence lawyer he was burnt out, disillusioned and depressed.
“He says he is haunted by the dead from his numerous homicide cases and hates himself for what he has done,” Evans said.
“He says he has been genuinely torn between doing his job and his conscience, which keeps asking him ‘Is this really what you want to be doing?'”
I don’t think I could be a criminal defence attorney. I admire those who can, because it is vital defendants get fair trials and are only found guilty if there is no reasonable doubt. But I would personally struggle with defending those accused of certain vile crimes. I think I would struggle to cope, as Greg King obviously did. It is a mark of his humanity that just performing his role caused him such anguish (not to suggest those without such anguish are inhumane).
In his finding, Evans mostly paraphrases the note in which King spoke of the experiences with criminals that had dulled his human senses and the victims of serious crime who affected him profoundly.
What a sad loss.
Milnes-King had told the coroner her husband had a massive breakdown in June, 2012, the night after delivering his closing address for Ewen Macdonald in the Scott Guy murder trial.
The trial had taken a substantial toll on him and his breakdown was the most intense she had seen, going on for hours whereas he would usually be able to pick himself up.
In a sense he is a further victim of that tragedy,
In the week before King’s death, The Dominion Post’s investigative reporter Phil Kitchin had approached King about an allegation from a disgruntled former client of irregularities in legal aid billing.
The Ministry of Justice, which administers legal aid, had found King’s legal aid bill for the client’s case had been “well within” the range of what was reasonable and to be expected but in King’s absence the investigation could not be taken further.
A senior police officer who investigated King’s death thought that, in King’s frame of mind at the time, the thought of a media circus over legal aid could have felt overwhelming, but Milnes-King thought her husband was unlikely to have been unduly worried by the allegations made against him.
I think it was probably a factor, but not a determinative factor. The Herald reports:
The police officer who investigated Mr King’s death, Detective Inspector Paul Basham, said he had investigated matters involving Dominion Post investigative reporter Phil Kitchin, who was looking into allegations made against Mr King by a former client.
The disgruntled client had alleged irregularities in legal aid billing.
But he said Ms Milnes-King believed her husband was unlikely to have been unduly bothered by the allegations, and there was no mention in the suicide note.
Kitchin gave evidence he had contacted Mr King on November 1, two days before Mr King was found dead, but described their conversation as “cordial, courteous, professional and polite”.
He told Mr King it was possible he would not publish a story.
What would be interesting to know is whether or not a story was written and was in the system, so to speak. But I think it is far to conclude that the inquiries by the Dominion Post were not a major factor, and were not improper. Of course it is all speculation, as we don’t know exactly what led to the sad decision, but the lack of any mention in the suicide note is influential.
Ms Milnes-King said her husband had helped a lot of individuals and organisations on a pro bono basis, and had a charitable spirit which saw him engaged with numerous groups.
“He represented clients for free and made many unpaid trips to the West Coast acting for the Pike River contractors who were left out of pocket after the tragedy.
“This is an extremely difficult time for our family. With the first anniversary of Greg’s death in a few weeks, we trust people fully understand and respect our need for private time.”
Sensible Sentencing Trust’s Garth McVicar said New Zealand had lost one of the greatest men he had the good fortune to meet.
“Greg gave his time willingly and freely to assist many of the families and victims within the wider Sensible Sentencing Trust family,” Mr McVicar said.
“Greg’s knowledge of the law, his passion for people from all walks of life and his drive to leave society better than he found it was unique and irreplaceable.’
Such a glowing tribute to a defence lawyer from the Sensible Sentencing Trust shows how special Greg King was. The only good to come out of this will be more people confronting their depression and mental health issues at an early stage to avoid further situations like this.