The Trouble with Murder gives insight to NZ's justice system
Convicted murderer Dr Paul Wood does not mince words when talking about life behind bars. "The tough part about prison is the company you keep," Paul says in the first episode of Prime's new documentary series The Trouble With Murder.
"Imagine being housed with all of the worst bullies and most annoying people from school," he says, "but there's no home time, and then add to that the complete inability to make adult decisions for yourself."
At age 18, two days after his mother died of cancer, Wood killed his drug dealer. Found guilty of murder, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A drug user and high school drop-out, his future looked grim. But while inside, Wood obtained bachelor and master degrees and began studying for his doctorate in psychology. Now in his late 30s, he has turned his life around. These days he is a psychologist, life coach and motivational speaker who mentors at-risk youth.
Wood, who hails from Wellington and now lives in Auckland, is one of several people who feature in The Trouble With Murder's first episode. The series looks at the history of New Zealand's criminal justice system and raises questions about the way in which people are punished for murder.
Also offering their opinions are well-known faces from the legal profession including Peter Williams, Simon Moore and Marie Dyhrberg. Lobbyist Garth McVicar from the Sensible Sentencing Trust talks about his views on prison sentencing as does former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer who served as the Minister of Justice in the mid-1980s.
There is also a look at some of New Zealand's most chilling cases, such as the 1955 killing of 75-year-old widow Florence Smith by 20-year-old Edward Te Whiu at her Northland home. For his crime, Te Whiu was sentenced to death and was hanged. It has been suggested that Te Whiu was "mentally challenged".
Another infamous case highlighted is that of the 1998 murder of Reporoa farmer and mother Beverly Bouma who was shot during a home invasion. File footage of Beverly's husband Henk describing the final moments of her life is particularly difficult to watch.
"Our biggest challenge was making a fair and balanced documentary about a polarising subject," says producer Jane Robertson.
"It sometimes felt like we were walking a tightrope in order to do this. We had many subjective stories to tell and we wanted to present them without judgment. We do frame the stories, but we let the people connected to the cases speak for themselves, and we show a range of very different murders, each with a set of unique circumstances.
"The direction of where we seem to be going, in punishing people who kill, does point to a certain harshening up in attitude and a desire for longer prison sentences. This is true globally as well. Our main goal was not to broadcast one opinion or give a one-sided answer. We wanted to go deeper than that. This is why, in the second episode, we explore who murderers are and we attempt to discover why people kill.
"In the third documentary we meet the families of victims and we see what a terrible thing it is to have a loved one murdered.Throughout the series we also meet people convicted of murder and see the price they pay for what they did. Dr Paul Wood is one of these people. I think viewers will be fascinated by Paul and his story of how he has gone from drug-addicted teenager who killed a man and spent over a decade in prison, to successful psychologist."
Robertson says it was vital that the series was balanced. "We all felt a great responsibility to produce a fully rounded, thoroughly researched, fair and balanced documentary series," she says.
"Clearly, murder is always terrible, tragic and the consequences for all involved are long lasting. Through making this series, we discovered just how terrible murder really is and we could see the pain and hurt continuing through generations of families."
She hopes viewers will gain "a better understanding of how sentencing for murder works in New Zealand and a deeper understanding of the circumstances around murder and the reasons why people kill."
The Trouble With Murder, Prime, Monday
- TV Guide