Defence lawyer Greg King was 'haunted' by crimes

Last updated 12:00 17/10/2013
Defence lawyer Greg King
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ

LEGAL MIND: Greg King during the Ewen Macdonald murder trial last year.

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Top lawyer Greg King took his life, depressed, burnt-out, and haunted by the dead from the cases he had known.

Coroner Garry Evans has released his findings into the death of King, 43, whose body was found on November 3, last year, in Dungarvan Rd, Newlands, Wellington, not far from his Mercedes car.

In the car was a typewritten note that began:

"To everyone: How can I explain the unexplainable?"

It said that after nearly 20 years as a defence lawyer he was burnt out, disillusioned and depressed.

"He says he is haunted by the dead from his numerous homicide cases and hates himself for what he has done," Evans said.

"He says he has been genuinely torn between doing his job and his conscience, which keeps asking him 'Is this really what you want to be doing?'"

In his finding, Evans mostly paraphrases the note in which King spoke of the experiences with criminals that had dulled his human senses and the victims of serious crime who affected him profoundly.

It says that, of all the things he would have done differently had he had his life over, he would never have changed his marriage [to Catherine Milnes-King] and his two daughters. He spoke of his love for them and his parents and brother.

Milnes-King has issued a statement saying the family saw his death as a by-product of his genius. She asked for privacy.

Milnes-King had told the coroner her husband had a massive breakdown in June, 2012, the night after delivering his closing address for Ewen Macdonald in the Scott Guy murder trial.

The trial had taken a substantial toll on him and his breakdown was the most intense she had seen, going on for hours whereas he would usually be able to pick himself up.

And after Macdonald's trial ended, King was publicly slated everywhere, Milnes-King said.

His health and work stress through 2012 really impacted on him, she said.

The week before he died he worked on a manslaughter trial in the High Court at Wellington, describing it in his final letter as "another terrible unnecessary death and a lifestyle and community most New Zealanders would have no idea existed".

He saw the appalling gaps in society getting worse, not better.

His cases had drawn disheartening and depressing abuse from some people, he hated the attention he received and longed to be anonymous, his letter said.

In the week before King's death, The Dominion Post's investigative reporter Phil Kitchin had approached King about an allegation from a disgruntled former client of irregularities in legal aid billing.

The Ministry of Justice, which administers legal aid, had found King's legal aid bill for the client's case had been "well within" the range of what was reasonable and to be expected but in King's absence the investigation could not be taken further.

A senior police officer who investigated King's death thought that, in King's frame of mind at the time, the thought of a media circus over legal aid could have felt overwhelming, but Milnes-King thought her husband was unlikely to have been unduly worried by the allegations made against him.

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Milnes-King told the coroner that it had only come to her later how overwhelming the pressure her husband was under must have been for him, "and there was no light at the end of the tunnel ...," she had written.

She thought he was depressed but was too proud to discuss it with anyone.

Only a trace of alcohol, and an anti-depressant that may also be used to treat chronic pain, was found in his blood.

Evans said the relentless pressure of work and other influences had crowded out the time King needed to look after his own health and weighed so heavily upon his mind that he suffered a major collapse and in his very depressed state saw the only way out as being to end his life.

"It is sad indeed that King was unable to bring himself to report his depression in order that he might receive the benefit of wise counselling, treatment and support. In consequence, his depression remained undiagnosed and untreated."

Given what he called the rumour and suspicion surrounding the circumstances of King's death, Evans said it was desirable that the true facts be known.

In 2009, the New Zealand Law Society ran the first of a series of articles about depression. The society reported a strong response to their publication. The society's publicity to members about the illness is continuing.

STATEMENT FROM CATHERINE MILNES-KING

Our family will unlikely ever come to terms with Greg's death. Sadly, like many people, we see it as a by-product of his recognised genius.

The texture of the man we remember is a caring and loving husband, father, brother and son; someone who never said no to requests for his expert help, and someone who stood for fairness, equality and justice for everyone.

Over the past year, we have received many messages and letters from people nationwide who share in our loss and we want to thank them from the depths of our hearts for their compassion.

Greg has left a positive legacy to New Zealand's legal sector with his input at practice and policy levels, and we are very proud of that.

He helped a lot of individuals and organisations on a pro bono basis.

His charitable spirit had him engaged with numerous groups across every aspect of society including the Wellington Free Ambulance, Wainuiomata Rugby League and the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

He represented clients for free and made many unpaid trips to the West Coast acting for the Pike River contractors who were left out of pocket after the tragedy.

This is an extremely difficult time for our family.

With the first anniversary of Greg's death in a few weeks, we trust people fully understand and respect our need for private time.

WHERE TO GET HELP IF YOU ARE DEPRESSED:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Depression helpline: 0800 111 757

Youthline: 0800 376 633

Samaritans: 0800 726 666

In an emergency, dial 111

- The Dominion Post

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