OPINION: Ideally, justice comes speedily. Sometimes it cannot. In which case, we'll aim for it happening inexorably.
Though we are not remotely near being able to claim that our worst violent offenders will inevitably be hauled into the dock and presented with emphatic proof of their wrongdoing, the number of long-time-coming DNA gotchas continues to mount pleasingly.
As the database of genetically indexed material increases, so does the capacity for the law to reach way back into dirty deeds done long ago.
Most recently, 33-year-old Norman Barry Ladbrook, who last November provided a DNA sample. It linked him, emphatically, to a rape in Invercargill six years earlier. Confronted, he admitted it, and said the incident had weighed heavily on his mind ever since. Not so heavily that he had stepped forward beforehand to confess, obviously, but now he can console himself that wherever his body ends up once the judge has sentenced him, his mind may be less burdened.
Life used to be so much easier for rapists and murderers. A crime for which they must physically show up becomes a crime for which, even if they try to be exquisitely careful, the slightest remnant of their own body is liable to betray them.
Then there's the reverse effect. Innocents can be revealed as such. Perhaps most famously, David Dougherty was released after three years in prison when retesting of his DNA proved his innocence of the rape charge for which he was convicted.
Aaron Farmer's rape conviction in 2005 was so dodgy that he was already headed for a retrial on other failings from his trial, before developments in DNA testing resolved the issue, entirely, in his favour.
Both those cases hold real cautions. Before Dougherty was freed by emphatic DNA conclusions, he had been convicted in a case in which more rudimentary DNA evidence was used against him. In Farmer's case, police committed the dirty lie of telling him they had DNA evidence proving his guilt. They did not, and no such evidence was marshalled against him in court. But the potential for Farmer, who had been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and paranoid personality disorder, either to have caved at that point regardless of his innocence, or at least have reacted in a way that might have compromised his defence regardless of his innocence, was considerable. So nix to DNA bluffing.
More often, DNA punctures bluffing. Among the most pleasing pieces of footage yet published on the southlandtimes.co.nz website was the Invercargill police interview footage of Rima Matea Devlin in 1998, having cockily denied raping an 81-year-old woman in her Tweed St, Invercargill, home five years earlier, being told of a DNA match. His confidence evaporates, he quickly confesses, and then, when left alone in the room, bangs his head on the table, curses and cries.
When DNA in 2002 caught Teresa Cormack's rapist-killer Jules Mikus in 2002, 15 years after her death, The Southland Times suggested that the still-at-large killer of Maureen McKinnel in 1987 had most likely heard of the circumstances of the conviction and felt a chill stab to his vitals. Sure enough, 17 years after that crime, Jarrod Mangels was hauled before the court and, after a week of largely scientific evidence, changed his plea to guilty.
Here's where we might remind ourselves that former Invercargill man Kevin James O'Loughlin, 30, a self-employed carpenter, was found stabbed to death in a Nelson carpark on May 2, 1993. Detectives were unable to find a motive, a suspect or a murder weapon. But they do have a DNA sample. Tick tock . . .
- © Fairfax NZ News
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