Michael October’s murder and rape conviction could be the first case challenged by a high-powered team formed to investigate suspected miscarriages of justice in New Zealand.
Charitable trust The New Zealand Public Interest Project (NZPIP) will launch on June 1. Its panel will investigate potential injustices.
The conviction of Michael October, who spent 11 years in jail for the 1994 rape and murder of 22-year-old Christchurch woman Anne-Maree Ellens, is among four high-profile criminal cases in its sights. Civil proceedings of public interest, including test cases and class action, could be considered.
The voluntary board consists of sociologist and University of Canterbury (UC) lecturer Jarrod Gilbert, UC dean of law Chris Gallavin, private investigator Tim McKinnel, lawyers Nigel Hampton QC and and Kerry Cook, forensic scientist Anna Sandiford, legal expert Duncan Webb, and founder of investigation firm Zavest Glynn Rigby.
Gilbert said countries including England and Scotland had independent criminal cases review commissions that pursued potential miscarriages. While these organisations were created and funded by Acts of Parliament, successive New Zealand governments refused to establish a similar body.
I’d like to see such a body in New Zealand. We generally have a very good justice system, but beyond doubt there are cases (think Peter Ellis) where innocent people get convicted. In the US there is no doubt a number of innocent people have been executed, as DNA evidence allows us to look at old evidence with new ability.
In the absence of a government body, its a good thing to have a group of people volunteer their time to investigate cases where they think there may have been a miscarriage of justice. It doesn’t mean they’ll be right, but new evidence can come to light (think Amanda Banks).
I’m not sure Mr October is a great initial case for them. While he claims his initial conviction for murder and rape is due to a wrong confession (think Teina Pora), he also did some very serious offending in 2011 of which there is no dispute:
Fifteen years after his conviction for the schoolyard rape and murder of a Christchurch woman, Michael Wayne October has been jailed for 21 months for strangling and threatening to kill his girlfriend.
October, who now goes by the name Mikaere Oketopa, told his girlfriend during the July 30 incident at his home: “This is the last night you will have air in your lungs.”
He also told her: “Too bad your son’s not going to have a mother.”
Oketopa stopped the attack when she told him she loved him and let her body go limp.
She said later she believed she was going to be killed.
Of course this doesn’t mean he was guilty of the 1994 murder.