Tuesday, December 31, 2019

False confessions (Allegedly made to prison snitches): New Zealand: Veteran prize -winning journalist Mike White (North and South) calls jailhouse snitches a blight on NZ's (New Zealand's) justice system in a story replete with cases this Blog has followed, including Scott Watson, Teina Pora, and Mark Lundy...(Great read. HL): "For years, police and prosecutors have used the most repellent and unreliable informants to help convict people. Prison witnesses – criminals who claim a cellmate confessed to a crime – bolster weak police cases and gain rewards in return. Mike White investigates the shadowy world of jailhouse snitches and asks why New Zealand is doing virtually nothing to control this threat to our justice system."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: In response to  the stunning number of exonerations  enabled by DNA evidence,  one of the most common explanations has been that all too often police and prosecutors  are tempted to use devious techniques in the absence of  scientific evidence which can neatly provide a conviction. One of these techniques - in addition to rigging the statement and identification processes - is by 'buying' the evidence of prison informants, commonly referred to as 'snitches." unfettered use of snitches. Prize-winning journalist Journalist Mike White gives many examples of  questionable use of this practice in New Zealand in an article which first appeared 'North and South," and which refers to several of the cases I have been  following on this Blog. (it's a long piece  which is well worth the read at the link below- I am providing a few excerpts to give the reader a taste.

Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog.


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "While all details are suppressed, one of the defence lawyers in this case, Christopher Stevenson, says, generally, prison informants only come forward because they can get something more valuable than even money – their liberty. “And that’s why the process has been described as legalised bribery.” Stevenson, who has appeared in numerous cases where snitches have been used, says if he offered anything to witnesses who might help exonerate his clients, “I’d be promptly before the Law Society, with some saying that’s an attempt to pervert the course of justice – effectively paying witnesses to give evidence helpful to your case. I believe the whole jailhouse informant reward system taints the integrity of the criminal justice system.” Overseas evidence suggests jailhouse witness statements were the most unreliable evidence in courts and one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions, Stevenson says.  “So now we know all these things, I think the time has come to really draw a line in the sand and put a stop to this sort of evidence. “It beggars belief that nothing has happened in New Zealand, and I’m dismayed that, given what we know, New Zealand is so far behind the rest of the world in reforming the use of this inherently dangerous evidence.”


STORY: "Jailhouse snitches a blight on NZ's justice system," by Mike White, published by 'Noted' on December 17, 2019. "Mike White has been a journalist for 20 years and has reported from many countries, including Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 2003 he has been a staff writer and photographer for North & South. In that time he has won more than 20 Qantas and Canon media awards, has been New Zealand Feature Writer of the Year three times, and received New Zealand's premier journalism award, the Wolfson Fellowship to Cambridge University."

SUB-HEADING: "For years, police and prosecutors have used the most repellent and unreliable informants to help convict people. Prison witnesses – criminals who claim a cellmate confessed to a crime – bolster weak police cases and gain rewards in return. Mike White investigates the shadowy world of jailhouse snitches and asks why New Zealand is doing virtually nothing to control this threat to our justice system. "

 GIST: "They are murderers. They are child rapists. They have butchered their children and stabbed their partners. They are drug dealers, kidnappers and armed robbers. Nearly all of them have been convicted of fraud and dishonesty. Some have been found guilty of perjury. Yet these people have all been allowed to give crucial evidence in New Zealand courts, frequently in high-profile trials. They claim a fellow prisoner confessed to them, admitting serious crimes in a moment of intimacy or bravado. And now, the prisoner who’s heard this remarkable confession feels compelled to tell police about it. Because it’s the right thing to do, they say. Because they were sickened by what they heard. Because they want to help the victim’s family. Bullshit, say an increasing number of jurisdictions around the world. Bullshit, say academics who’ve studied these witnesses. Bullshit, say politicians, commissioners and fellow criminals: these prison informants are almost always liars, inventing damning stories to get rewards from the authorities. But still they appear in our courts, their claims cloaked in credibility by the police and prosecutors who procure and produce them, their names hidden, their confident testimony persuading juries who have little understanding of how prison works. Welcome to the world of snitches. Let’s meet some of them......................
The case of Scott Watson, convicted of double murder.
Witness A claimed Watson whispered a confession through his cell door peephole. A year after Watson’s trial he recanted his evidence, then flipped again, saying it was true.
Witness B met Watson while on remand for beating his partner unconscious and stabbing her so hard in the back the knife’s handle broke off. When he offered evidence about Watson confessing, he was released on bail, given a car and phone, and ultimately sentenced to just nine months in prison for the attack and drug offences, but served only three months.

The case of Stephen Hudson, convicted of murder.
As in Watson’s case there was no body, no witnesses and no weapon. So police went searching for snitches. Detectives approached 300 criminals and dangled a $50,000 reward in front of them as well as providing information about the case. Unsurprisingly, eight prisoners claimed Hudson confessed to them about the murder. One was proven to be lying because he was never in the same unit as Hudson. The others, who all have name suppression, gave varying stories of how and where Hudson committed the murder. Some of them rank among New Zealand’s most infamous and awful murderers.

The case of Teina Pora, twice convicted of murder, but later exonerated.
A witness, who claimed Pora confessed, had serious convictions for violence and dishonesty, but was given a $150 loan by a senior policeman and a letter from police to the court when sentenced for violence charges. The judge who reviewed Pora’s case said there was “good reason to doubt both the integrity and reliability” of the witness.

The case of Mark Lundy, convicted of double murder.
Witness X, who had more than 30 dishonesty convictions, claimed Lundy blurted out a confession minutes after the pair first met. Years later, he tried to use this supposed information to bargain with a judge to get bail.

The case of David Tamihere, convicted of double murder.
Three jailhouse witnesses claimed Tamihere confessed to murdering Swedish tourists Urban Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen. Witness A was a well-known snitch who had given evidence in other trials. Witness C, Roberto “Conchie” Harris, was a double murderer who shot a couple and left their bodies for the woman’s children to find when they returned from school, then forged a letter to the Parole Board claiming he had established a trust for the children, in an effort to be released early. Five years later, Harris retracted his claims, saying police offered $100,000 and early parole for implicating Tamihere. In 2017 and back in jail for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl, Harris was found guilty of perjury for the evidence he gave against Tamihere and sentenced to more than eight years jail. By this stage it had been revealed Harris also offered to give snitch evidence in another high-profile case. Police tried hard – they even approached one of Tamihere’s brothers and offered a reward if he said Tamihere had confessed. But Tamihere knew he was finished when “Witness A” appeared in court. “It didn’t matter what you were going to say after that. It was that horrific and detailed, it was all over. We actually had to stop the trial for a while when he gave his story, because one of the jury members got physically sick.” Conchie Harris claimed the same things, adding that Tamihere admitted sexually molesting the couple before killing them. But Tamihere says Harris was known in prison as being so untrustworthy, nobody would have ever confided in him. “Not in a million years. If he said good morning to me, I’d look outside before I answered, just to make sure it was morning.”

 ..............................  In the Supreme Court in October, Robert Lithgow QC shouldered his robes, stared at their threadbare patches, and mused whether they would last till his retirement. But a few minutes later, thoughts of an easier life were set aside as he told the court’s five judges our justice system had been corrupted by encouraging and using prison informants. Lithgow was representing David Roigard, convicted of murdering his son, Aaron, despite the case being entirely circumstantial: no body, witnesses, weapon, or forensics – but two jailhouse snitches, whose names are suppressed. Witness W had over 100 convictions, more than 60 for dishonesty. Witness F had more than 150 convictions including 130 involving dishonesty, and others for extremely violent offences. Witness F told police he wanted “a deal” on serious charges he was facing, in return for testifying Roigard confessed to him in prison. Subsequently, his sentence was cut from a starting point of four years eight months in jail, to just two years. Witness W also got a reduced sentence for giving evidence. With late morning sun slipping through the skylight in the extravagant, ovoid dome that is our country’s highest court, Lithgow was in no mood for euphemism. These informants were “bought and paid for” – witnesses who made stuff up and were rewarded for it. The Crown gave them credibility by letting them testify, implicitly signalling they were trustworthy battlers, “looking like they’re going to their first communion”. In reality, Lithgow said, snitches were conmen, paid fraudsters who sought benefits for unverifiable evidence. And the greatest reward was spending “less time locked up in a cage”, whether that was by reduced sentences for their own crimes, or early parole. Lithgow said time was the “crypto-currency” traded among prisoners, police, prosecutors and the courts, and by giving prisoners smaller sentences as reward for snitching, judges were complicit in something “so obviously wrong” it risked their impartiality. “The courts are running the court and the gift shop as well.” Instead, Lithgow suggested giving prison informants no inducement or reward at all, “and then see if he performs”.

The entire story can be read at:

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic"  section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/charlessmith. Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: http://smithforensic.blogspot.com/2011/05/charles-smith-blog-award-nominations.html Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com.  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;