Scott Guy verdict: Court of public opinion

Last updated 05:00 12/07/2012
Ewen Macdonald
NOT GUILTY ON MURDER CHARGE: Ewen Macdonald.

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After a trial that gripped the nation, a survey has revealed just one in five New Zealanders think Ewen Macdonald did not murder his brother-in-law Scott Guy.

A jury of 11 handed down a not guilty verdict to Macdonald, 32, last week, after a month-long trial in the High Court at Wellington.

But results to be made public by market research company UMR today show just 20 per cent of people surveyed agreed with Ewen Macdonald being acquitted of slaying Mr Guy outside his rural Feilding home in July 2010.

In a statement after the verdict, Macdonald's parents Kerry and Marlene Macdonald said the decision was correct.

"After talking to Ewen at every prison visit possible and hundreds of phone conversations we are no longer `confused and bewildered' but rather totally at peace with the knowledge that we, at least, have his truth."

The survey of 750 New Zealanders aged 18 years and over, conducted in the days immediately after the verdict, shows almost half of the respondents believed Macdonald was guilty.

When asked "From what you have seen, heard or feel about the case, do you think it is more likely Ewen Macdonald is guilty or not guilty?" 48 per cent said guilty.

A further 20 per cent said not guilty, 28 per cent said they were unsure, and 4 per cent of people refused to answer.

Macdonald's lawyer, Greg King, said 11 jurors had looked at more than 100 hours of evidence before unanimously agreeing he was not guilty

"Not a single person who responded to the survey heard anything close to that. Most people would have heard one hour of the case, so less than 1 per cent of what the jury heard – and what they heard was someone else's slanted opinion.

"I think there's a huge danger when you have people at home who have seen or read or heard an hour of commentary giving their opinion. It's not informed, it's not considered and frankly, it's not rational."

The survey also showed support for major changes to the criminal justice system similar to those advocated for by Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar this week.

This included getting rid of a defendant's right to silence, which would mean they would be forced to give evidence at the trial. Of those surveyed, 61 per cent thought this was a good idea.

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Three-quarters of people thought juries should be able to return a verdict of "not-proven" alongside "not guilty" and "guilty," as used in the Scottish legal system. A "not-proven" verdict is essentially an acquittal, but gives juries an option where they feel that the charges have not been proved but they equally cannot say the accused is "not guilty".

Mr King said these were legitimate debates. "I think it's a valid argument to have. Over the last several hundred years the right to silence has evolved. The system of justice is always up for reform."

However, after defending Clayton Weatherston, Mr King recalled many people saying Weatherston should not have been allowed to take the stand.

UMR research manager Gavin White said the poll gauged public opinion about the case and the justice system.

"Some of these issues are very much in the public interest – there are a lot of people who think the `not proven' verdict should be [introduced], which is a pretty fundamental change to ... our legal system."

The company had conducted five separate polls on the David Bain verdict, with the last poll at the time of his release in June 2009 showing 47 per cent of people thought he was not guilty and 29 per cent thought he was.

In contrast, only 22 per cent of people thought Scott Watson was not guilty and 4 per cent thought Mark Lundy was not guilty in two polls done in May 2007.

Of those surveyed, 64 per cent said they had followed the Guy trial closely in the media.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 per cent.

POLL RESULTS

Guilty  48%

Not guilty 20%

Not sure 28%

Won't say 4%

» UMR's online research panel: SAYit.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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