Wife killer Kevin Harmer released from prison

Kevin Harmer pictured during his jury trial in 2002.
DAVID ALEXANDER / FAIRFAX NZ

Kevin Harmer pictured during his jury trial in 2002.

A cheating husband who incinerated his wife by setting her car alight has been released from prison on parole at his first attempt.

In a case that shocked a nation, Kevin Harmer was convicted of the 1999 murder of his wife Jillian Thomas after beginning a relationship with his current wife.

Harmer, who has maintained his innocence, was released by the Parole Board in September to live at the 11 hectare farm near Leeston in Mid Canterbury he purchased with his current wife soon after he was sentenced to a 14 year minimum jail term in 2002. 

Convicted murderer Kevin Harmer was released on parole to his home on a farm near Leeston and Dunsandel.
GEORGE HEARD / FAIRFAX NZ

Convicted murderer Kevin Harmer was released on parole to his home on a farm near Leeston and Dunsandel.

Harmer declined to comment on Saturday, and said his wife, who has campaigned for his release, did not want to talk to the media.

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Upon his release, Harmer was to take over the running of the farm from his wife despite suffering a serious health issue. 

Jillian Faye Thomas died in a truck fire in 1999.

Jillian Faye Thomas died in a truck fire in 1999.

Harmer had been a champion sheep farmer, local Government manager, and considered by many that knew him to be a model citizen.

When his wife died in a fiery car explosion on the farm where they lived, police and firefighters accepted his story of desperately trying to pull his wife, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, from the Land Rover.

But he was arrested in 2000, and after one mistrial, a jury accepted that Harmer had either burned his wife to death while unconscious, or killed her first and burned the body, in an attempt to avoid losing his farm in a marital split.

The case gained even more attention for the fact Harmer had married again just a month before the second trial began. 

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Harmer appealed to the Court of Appeal, but the murder conviction stood. He became eligible for parole on August 11 this year.

A prison psychologist who prepared a report for the parole board said Harmer's ongoing risk of violent re-offending was low.

She suggested the person at greatest risk from him was likely to be an intimate partner, particularly if the relationship was about to end.

On a website dedicated to his innocence, Harmer's wife, whose name was suppressed at his trial, told of meeting Harmer while working as a prostitute in Wellington in the late 1990s.

She said he tracked her down to her nursing school, and she agreed to see him as a private client.

Their relationship blossomed, and they would meet up regularly at Wellington hotels.

"Kevin was not possessive, a very gentle person, not obsessive or pushy, and (I) felt totally safe in his company," she said.

On the site, Harmer's wife recounts receiving a phone call from Harmer four days after his wife's death. "He was extremely distraught and distressed."

She supported him through trials and imprisonment, and continues to protest his innocence.

"I have no regrets, I have told no lies, and continue to love and believe in Kevin. The tragic loss of a wife and second mum that is shared by his two daughters, has been exacerbated by this malicious action."

The Parole Board said it was satisfied that Harmer did not pose an "undue risk" to the community.

His conduct in prison was described as "exemplary", and he completed a diploma in agribusiness and helped other offenders with their studies.

He was supported at the parole hearing by his two daughters from his first marriage.

The conditions of his release prevent him from contacting any members of Thomas' family, and is under a 10pm to 5am curfew for two months.

 

 - Sunday Star Times

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