Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Ron Mark in a China Shop

Ron Mark, M.P. seems to think he's got a possible hit against the government in the Philip Edwards case. However during Question Time in the House, it's become clear that he doesn't understand what he's talking about.

Edwards, a drifter fresh out on parole, killed David McNee, a gay TV personality. He was charged with murder and at his trial he told the following story. Edwards was picked up by McNee on the streets for a performance on the condition that no touching take place. Edwards insisted on this condition because, unknown to McNee, he was violently sensitive about his own sexuality. During the performance, McNee touched Edwards whereupon Edwards bludgeoned him to death with his fists and then stole his car. The jury believed his story and convicted him of manslaughter on the grounds that he was provoked. Edwards has yet to be sentenced but the sentence will be heavy due to the severity of the crime.

Quite a lot of people have become upset because of the sordid nature of the crime and many believe that Edwards should have gone down for murder. Ron Mark has taken to asking questions in the house about an earlier incident involving Edwards.

4. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Did the police respond to a call from [address deleted], Auckland on 18th September 2002; if so, what was the nature of the offence reported?
Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): Yes. I am advised that the nature of the incident was burglary.

This incident has already been reported in TV3 and the NZ Herald. Philip Edwards was identified through DNA testing as the person responsible for this incident and confessed to burglary. But because the witness refused to testify due to trauma from the violent assault, the case did not proceed and Edwards was allowed to obtain parole as he was serving a short prison sentence for minor offenses at the time of his identification. Ron Mark then reveals that he doesn't understand what went on.

Ron Mark: Why did the prosecution not use the sure Edwards incident in the trial when it so clearly could have rebutted the defence case by establishing a modus operandi and clinched a murder conviction?

Why indeed? Hawkins refused to answer but looking back at the facts of the case, the police have three pieces of evidence - the victim's testimony, the DNA evidence and McNee's own confession. Even if the witness refused to testify, they had more than enough evidence for a conviction. So why didn't the case proceed?

Ron is almost certainly right in the modus operandi of the two cases being similar but he is almost as wrong about the m.o. itself. Far from being a simple case of burglary and assault that he thinks it is, the case may have been similar to that of the circumstances in which McNee was killed: the victim hires Edwards for a performance, touches him and is beaten and robbed. Given that the victim was married, his reluctance to testify and the curious readiness of the police to drop the case becomes all too understandable.

There is a valid criticism of the police actions in this case, namely that they failed to inform the Parole Board about a serious development in Edwards' offending. If they had been aware, more stringent parole conditions and enforcement could have been imposed and David McNee might still be alive. But Ron Mark, because he does not understand, is coming close to causing further damage to another Edwards victim who has surely suffered enough.