A very good article in the Herald on the impact on families of victims, having to go through annual parole hearings. Extracts:
Aynsley Harwood wakes up screaming. Her nightmares are vivid, relentless and painful. The daughter she lost 26 years ago is ripped away from her night after night by a monster named Peter Holdem.
The nightmares get worse around May when the monster usually appears in person.
Holdem murdered Harwood’s 6-year-old daughter, Louisa Damodran, in 1986. He became eligible for release about 10 years later. Like many crime victims and family members, Harwood has been fighting to keep him in prison since that day.
To do this she must endure a hearing by the Parole Board, which decides whether a prisoner eligible for parole is safe enough to re-enter society or is still a risk who must stay behind bars.
The system sounds simple enough. But the process, which is repeated regularly until the prisoner is freed or dies, is far more complicated for victims and their families.
Some killers can now be sentenced to life without parole, which will mean the families of their victims won’t have to relive their loss by having to argue why so and so should not be released.
In cases where there are multiple offenders, victims have to attend multiple hearings.
Leigh-Anne Mullins knows that all too well – and struggles with it.
Her father, Raymond Mullins, was murdered in 1999 by three teenage girls – Natalie and Katrina Fenton and their cousin Daniella Bowman.
They were sentenced to life in prison in 2000 for stabbing and beating the Papatoetoe engineer to death. The trio have had numerous parole hearings and been declined each time.
For Mullins the hearings have been too many and too often. Each time, she has to relive the horror of her father’s murder.
I never thought of a case like that. You’d face three parole hearings a year. Awful. This was a shocking crime. One of the girls was only 15, but did the murder while on bail for aggravated robbery. They stabbed Mullins 19 times and carved letters into his chest.
Changes to the parole system announced earlier this year by Justice Minister Judith Collins and aimed at making life easier for victims, could help.
Those changes include pre-screening inmates to postpone unnecessary parole hearings and extending the maximum interval between parole hearings from one to two years.
The maximum postponement period for offenders serving indeterminate sentences and fixed sentences of 10 or more years would be extended from three to five years.
“Victims of crime will no longer need to face the very stressful prospect of parole hearings year after year, when an offender is clearly not safe to release into the community, and has made little or no effort at rehabilitation,” Collins says.
It will be interesting to see if Labour and Greens vote against this.
On October 15, 1986, little Louisa Damodran, just days shy of her 7th birthday, was walking home from school and just 100m from home when Holdem – who was on parole after serving time for the 1982 attempted rape of a 10-year-old in a Christchurch park – kidnapped her. He drove her to the Waimakariri River, throttled her and drowned her. Her body was found downstream three weeks later.
Holdem was sentenced to life but became eligible for parole in 1996. He has been declined each time and Harwood has made a submission at each hearing.
He will appear again in April 2013 and she is already on tenterhooks.
“I have to emotionally bolster myself up for hearings. I want to be taken seriously, to get my message across.
“As Louisa’s mother, it’s my job to defend her and make sure no other child goes through what she went through.
“There is a lot of anxiety but I push myself to do it. It’s usually scheduled around May and it means the entire month’s kind of up-in-the-air. It’s miserable. I can’t sleep. In the middle of the night I started to feel guilty over him being kept in prison for 26 years. I’ve helped keep him from his own children … I feel guilty about that. But I shouldn’t.
“It’s all a bit dismal. I’m just stressed all the time, preparing myself in case he gets out, preparing myself for the board, wondering if I am doing the right thing keeping him in there. And then I have to rehash it all every year … It makes my life harder.”
I doubt she is unusual, in the pressure such parole hearings place on her.