The friend of the friendless

BLAIR ENSOR AND MARIKA HILL
Last updated 11:37 04/11/2012
Greg King
Fairfax NZ

LEGAL EAGLE: Greg King giving his closing address during the Ewen Macdonald case.

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Tributes from the legal profession are flowing for Wellington barrister Greg King, who was found dead yesterday in a quiet suburban street.

King, 43, was a theatrical criminal lawyer, most recently seen successfully defending Ewen Macdonald against the charge of murdering Scott Guy.

He was discovered lying face down on a grass verge at the bottom of Dungarvan Rd in the northern Wellington suburb of Newlands at about 10.30am yesterday.

Pathologist John Rutherford was at the scene. He is the same pathologist who examined Guy's body.

Detective Inspector Paul Basham said police did not believe King's death was suspicious and the matter had been referred to the coroner.

He appealed for sightings of King's silver Mercedes-Benz in the Newlands area from midday Friday.

"Our deepest sympathies are with Greg's family and friends at this incredibly tragic and difficult time," Basham said.

"Greg was well known and respected among police staff, and I know his death will be keenly felt by many people, including those in the wider legal community."

King family spokeswoman Frances Jones asked that the family's privacy be respected.

"This is a terrible tragedy for Greg's family and children, who are devastated by his loss."

New Zealand Law Society president Jonathan Temm said the legal profession was ''tremendously saddened'' by the news.

Temm said Greg King had a national reputation and was a very well known member of the profession.

"Throughout his career he represented clients who were often unpopular and he did that with real ability and determination.''

Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson said King was a very nice guy and a fine advocate.

"Although young in years, Greg King had already achieved a huge amount in his career.

‘‘He was a lawyer in the finest traditions of the criminal bar, of the same stature as the likes of Mike Bungay, Kevin Ryan and Roy Stacey.''

Finlayson said King's early death was very sad and expressed his deepest sympathies to King's family.

King, who was diagnosed with diabetes late last year, was not present during the judge's summing up in the Jonathan Ioata manslaughter trial in Wellington on Wednesday.

It was understood he was at a medical appointment. He returned later.

King ran a practice with his wife, Catherine, out of Lower Hutt, and became a household name in July when he successfully defended Macdonald.

Legal experts hailed his work, which famously included wild-eyed closing arguments.

King was also involved in the defences of Scott Watson, John Barlow and Clayton Weatherston.

A source yesterday said he saw King's car at the end of the quiet residential street before dark on Friday night. He had never seen the car before and thought it was unusual.

"There's no houses right there - it's just a road end where you just turn around. There's no reason for a car to be parked there."

He believed the body was found only metres from the car by a person driving a red van.

Police arrived a short time later and he watched as specialist staff in boiler suits helped with the investigation.

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King's car was removed on a tow truck before his body was driven from the scene in a hearse about 3pm.

TRIBUTES ABOUND

Lawyers and convicted criminals alike were full of praise for King.

National Criminal Bar Association president Tony Bouchier said: "He was a rising star of our profession... he was tenacious, fearless and had all the attributes that any criminal barrister would want. We have really lost an ally."

King worked closely with mentor Judith Ablett Kerr on the 2008 Weatherston trial. She regarded him "like a son" and said last night: "I'm absolutely devastated."

Convicted double murderer John Barlow remembered King as "an exceptional person as well as a brilliant barrister".

Barlow maintains his innocence of the 1994 slayings of Eugene and Gene Thomas in central Wellington.

In 2008, King took an ultimately unsuccessful appeal to the Privy Council, taking on the case pro bono.

Barlow said: "You couldn't ask for anybody better. He was generous of his time. He was certainly an unusual person... he was out on his own."

Bryan Guy, father of murder victim Scott, described the death as "terrible, tragic and sad" for King's children and family.

He praised King's professionalism.

"He had a job to do. It wouldn't have mattered who the defence lawyer was. There's certainly no issues or animosity."

Gil Elliott, father of Sophie Elliott who was killed by Weatherston, has been critical of the provocation defence that King employed, but last night said he felt nothing but sadness for King's family.

"I think he would have gone places with regard to the judicial system in the future. We can't afford to lose people like that."

King found an unlikely friend in sometime rival Garth McVicar from the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

McVicar, who met King for lunch in Wellington two days before his death, said he was struggling with the news.

The pair had known each other for eight years and McVicar said he noticed nothing unusual with King when they met for lunch.

"Greg was one of those neat guys who could walk on both sides of life," he said.

King had the ability to "win the hearts" of the families of murder victims.

"We were opposite sides of the fence on a lot of issues. That's how we met. We had a number of sparring matches, but we ended up the best of friends.

"I admire Greg hugely. My thoughts are with the family."

King, born in Whanganui and raised in Turangi, leaves behind his wife Catherine Milnes-King and two children, Pippa and Millie.

DIFFICULT CHOICES

Greg King sacrificed pivotal family moments - such as the birth of his second daughter - in order to ensure some of New Zealand's most hated defendants got a fair trial.

But King had spoken just a few months ago of the excitement of spending more time with his wife.

This came after successfully defending Ewen Macdonald - charged with murdering Feilding farmer Scott Guy - in a gruelling, emotional trial that lasted a month.

In another career high, King spent two months touring the United States in March as part of a prestigious fellowship, observing radical attempts to reduce the prison population.

King, inspired by the case of pardoned murder accused Arthur Allan Thomas, is remembered for representing defendants who, like Thomas, maintained their innocence.

But defending some of New Zealand's most notorious criminals - including Clayton Weatherston, Bruce Howse and Scott Watson - came at a cost.

He missed the birth of his second daughter, Millie, in August 2008 and admitted in a 2009 interview that he "missed half her life".

"On one level, you try to justify it by thinking ‘I'm working hard, long hours and I'm working away from home for them', but it kind of defeats the purpose when you're not with them."

That summer he had only Christmas and New Year's Day off work.

His wife, he said, was "incredibly understanding".

Interviews he gave contain hints of a troubled life. He admitted to the New Zealand Herald this year that he drank far too much and that drinking helped him do his job.

"Vampires and blood; alcohol and lawyers. It's an age-old combination. It's got me through many a sleepless night."

King lived in the western hills above Lower Hutt, collected watches and art, kept chickens and four rescued cats, and sponsored the Wainuiomata Lions Rugby League Club.

He was diagnosed with diabetes in December and suffered from nerve damage.

"I get a bit manic. It's a good wake-up call."

In a 2009 interview, King agreed some of his clients were "absolutely horrible bastards" and some cases gave him nightmares.

Yet King said he never measured what he did based on what other people thought.

"I'm not here to be popular. I'm here to do my job."

King was the Whanganui-born son of a prison guard and grew up in a prison house where crime was much discussed.

His own ability to talk landed him in detention regularly at Tongariro High School, but King credited this with inspiring his future career.

A school librarian suggested he put his talking to more constructive purposes, as a lawyer.

"She was the first person, I guess, who really sowed the seed in my head. I'd always wanted to be a policeman as a kid but law was something I'd never really considered," he revealed this year.

He was head boy in 1988 and went on to gain a law degree from Otago University.

During a three-year apprenticeship alongside Judith Ablett Kerr, QC, he assisted in trials including those of Peter Ellis (the Christchurch creche) and the successful defence of Vicky Calder (the poisoned professor case).

Later there would be people who had murdered their neighbours and partners, child-sex offenders and murderers of child-sex offenders, and a man who bit another man's penis.

He was compared to Harry Potter following a dramatic, wild-eyed closing address in the Scott Guy case this year, but King laughed at the suggestion and said it was not an act.

"I'm basically a passionate person and quite expressive. By the time I've got to the [jury], they must be exhausted, so I to try and make points in a way that actually grabs their attention."

He seemed unruffled by the abusive phone calls he received when he defended university tutor-turned-murderer Weatherston, who killed Sophie Elliott.

During his career, he appeared as the defence lawyer in about 50 murder trials or appeals.

At a meeting for victims of crime in 2010 - attended by Elliott's parents - he said his dream was to defend innocent people. But in reality, he had acted for many who were guilty.

But King didn't just defend clients, he befriended them. He would buy them a jersey and trousers if they had nothing to wear to trial.

He even stepped in to protect murder accused Tony Tiumalu when a member of the victim's family rushed at him in Porirua District Court. The man picked up a chair and swung it, catching a blow on King's shoulder.

Earlier this year King became the 17th New Zealander, and first lawyer, chosen for the Eisenhower Fellowship, allowing him to travel to the United States.

The fellowship was set up in 1953 to help mid-career professionals make positive changes and contributions to their society.

In July, King spoke of his future and how he was booked up with jury trials until the end of the year.

He believed the right to a fair trial was unquestionable.

His favourite quote was by American civil rights activist Martin Luther King.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Related Story:

Well-Known Lawyer Greg King Found Dead

- © Fairfax NZ News

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