'Gay-hate' killer released
PROMINENT members of the gay community are outraged at the parole of a man who kicked a schoolboy to death in an apparent gay hate-crime, despite authorities assessing him as "posing a high risk of reoffending".
Jason Morris Meads, 36, was freed from prison on March 7 – 11 years after being jailed for life for the 1999 murder of 14-year-old Jeff Whittington.
The crime was so shocking, a play – Corner of 4am and Cuba – was written about it.
Jeff was found lying battered in a puddle at 4.40am in central Wellington on May 8, 1999. Shoe or boot marks could be seen on his skin. He had sustained severe brain damage and a ruptured bowel. He died in hospital the next day.
Meads, then 25, and Stephen James Smith, 27, both unemployed, were found guilty of Jeff's murder. The pair had met Jeff – who had dyed purple hair, wore purple nail polish and had pierced ears – at about 4am on an inner-city street.
A witness at the Wellington High Court trial said the pair had later boasted they had beaten a "faggot" and left him for dead.
"They said they had never seen anyone bleed from the places he bled from. They were laughing about it," the witness told the court.
The court heard Jeff had a diary which outlined homosexual encounters.
American-born playwright Ronald Nelson, who wrote Corner of 4am and Cuba, was outraged by Meads' release.
"He [Jeff] was a 14-year-old kid ... to kick a kid and let him lie in his own guts and sh*t in a puddle, in an alley, in Wellington, New Zealand, is pretty horrific," said Nelson, a high-profile member of the capital's gay community.
"If he [Meads] is a danger of reoffending, why did they let him out?"
The Parole Board decided to free Meads after a hearing on February 18.
A written report of the hearing, obtained by Sunday News earlier this week, said Meads was regarded "as posing a high risk of reoffending". It said that status was "unlikely to change while in custody".
But the board was "satisfied" that "with the very strong support that he has in the community both from family members and friends, his clear view of the future, his commitment to change and mature outlook, that risk can be appropriately managed in the community".
In September 2007, Meads pleaded guilty to defrauding the IRD of $17,000 while in prison. He was given a two years and two months' sentence, to be served concurrently with his life term. His latest Parole Board hearing was also told he had breached work conditions by returning to his cell with chewing gum and batteries.
He was charged with misconduct in January after a cellphone was found in a locker he shared with three other inmates.
At a disciplinary hearing, Meads admitted to having texted from the cellphone and pleaded guilty to using it. But he denied the phone was his.
Green MP Kevin Hague, who is gay, also hit out at Meads' release.
"Jeff Whittington deserved better," he said. "Meads' crime was a brutal hate-murder that sickened the nation.
"During his time in prison he has committed both major [tax fraud] and minor breaches of rules, including in the very recent past during work release, so it's hard to see how the Parole Board can possibly have any confidence that this will stop now that he has been released."
Both Meads and Smith unsuccessfully appealed against their murder convictions.
The Parole Board's last report said Meads' murder conviction "followed a versatile and increasingly serious offending which started when he was 16".
It said he had taken "positive steps" while in prison to address the causes of his offending. He had "matured during the course of his incarceration", he was a "good worker" and he was aware alcohol abuse had played a part in his offending.
"[Meads] is determined not to consume alcohol in the forseeable future ... he is also resolved to abstain from illicit drugs," the report said.
Sunday News was unable to contact Jeff's family for comment.