TV star's family still irate about jury verdict

Phillip Layton Edwards
Phillip Layton Edwards

The family of slain television star David McNee say they hope the jurors who acquitted Phillip Layton Edwards of murder are watching, as police continue to hunt for the man who snatched and then abandoned a 2-year-old boy.

Edwards has been on the run since Sunday after allegedly abducting toddler Gabriel Witehira-Donnelly from his Panmure home. The boy was found several hours later shivering and frightened in a shed.

Edwards, now 33, was freed on parole last year. He was found not guilty of murdering Mr McNee, but guilty of manslaughter, and was sentenced in 2004 to nine years' jail.

INTERIOR DESIGNER: David McNee was killed by Edwards.
Fairfax NZ
INTERIOR DESIGNER: David McNee was killed by Edwards.

Mr McNee's brother-in-law, John Oliver, told The Dominion Post the latest incident would never have happened if the jury had made the right decision and convicted Edwards of murder.

"We wondered if we would even be talking about this if the jury in the McNee case had reached the verdict they should have reached, which was murder, not manslaughter, in which case he would have still been in prison.

"We wonder just how the jury in that case might be feeling now that these events are unfolding; one wonders if it's playing on their minds and if they might have a conscience about it."

Mr McNee, an interior designer, starred in television shows My House, My Castle and Changing Rooms.

Edwards beat the 55-year-old to death - punching him 30 to 40 times - after being picked up by the older man and paid to perform a sex act. He claimed he was provoked after Mr McNee touched him, against their agreement.

But Mr Oliver said the case had been the catalyst for the defence of provocation to be abolished, which happened several years later after the trial of Clayton Weatherston.

"It outraged the gay community, who never had any difficulty accepting it was murder, and I feel that if it occurred today . . . let's face it, it was a strange verdict.

"My wife and daughter have always believed the wrong verdict was reached and, certainly, I'm in no doubt the wrong verdict was reached. Quite how they arrived at it escapes me."

The family had not been told that Edwards was to be freed from prison and the recent events had been difficult, Mr Oliver said.

"We're rather glad that David's mother isn't alive, because it wouldn't have helped her condition. My wife and daughter have been very upset about it. As I say, we were relieved to hear the little boy had been found on Sunday night."

There have been no reported sightings of Edwards since the abduction.

On Tuesday, he posted on Facebook that he took the boy because of actions by Gabriel's mother.

People criticised him on his Facebook page and he replied: "Hate me Condemn me then show me your perfect [sic]."

Fairfax Media