The Scott Guy murder case - my comments on Watkin's initial thoughts

The point at which Pundit gets all meta, with a post commenting on another post ... or, my thoughts on Tim's initial thoughts on the Ewen Macdonald trial verdict.

I was going to write a post of my own on the Macdonald/Guy trial verdict (interesting question - should murder trials be known by the name of the victim or the accused?) But then that busy little beaver Tim Watkin beat me to it.

So then I was going to make a comment at the bottom of his post. But that comment got so long that I thought "hey! Why not just be lazy and write a post of my own that basically plaigarises Tim's work under the guise of commenting on it?" 

And that's what I did. 

So Ewen Macdonald is found not guilty. That will surprise a lot of punters, I suspect, but not a lot of lawyers or journalists. Early confidence in a guilty verdict has ebbed throughout the case as the evidence has looked weak and Greg King's attacks strong. And within an hour of the verdict, the mood is turning.

I am a lawyer of sorts, and I was "surprised" by the outcome in the sense of when I heard it I went "wow ...!" That's not the same sort of surprise as I felt, for instance, when the verdict in OJ Simpson's murder trial was announced ... that was a total "what the fuck?" moment. Rather, my response to the Macdonald verdict was "wow - that could have gone either way, so it's interesting to see which way it actually went!"

My feeling was that the jury walked into their deliberations with a mind set of "common sense tells me Macdonald did it ... but is there enough hard evidence to back my gut instinct?" And Greg King did a very good job of showing how that evidence was a bit patchy - in essence, he was able to turn the jury's head against its gut. Which is a good thing ... but not easy to do. As Stephen Colbert reminds us:

"That's where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. Now, I know some of you are going to say, "I did look it up, and that's not true." That's 'cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that's how our nervous system works."

After 13 hours the jury decided that there was [in]sufficient evidence to convict Macdonald of his brother-in-law Scott Guy's murder. Whether they believe him innocent or simply that the Crown failed to make the case, we'll never know.

Yeah - I guess we could bring in the Scottish "not proven" verdict to sit alongside guilty/not guilty. But I've never been that hung up on whether the jury think someone actually is "innocent" or not ... as Justice France reminded the jury before they began their deliberations, they aren't a commission of inquiry. All they are there to do is decide if the person before them is so demonstrably guilty of a crime that they can be justly punished for it. If not, then let the rest of the public decide if they only probably did it ... or didn't do it at all.

Guy's father Bryan gave an incredibly composed and impressive statement on behalf of the family and elft [sic] us all with the one central question:

Who is responsible for the death of our son?

From a media point of view, that's the next big question before the weekend's big wrap up pieces. Many will think Mcdonald has gotten away with it, but the family didn't go there, which is interesting.

What do they think as to who did it? We don't know, but that question suggests they're at least not convinced of Macdonald's guilt.

I read this statement differently to Tim. I read this as the family reminding us that the verdict leaves them without "closure" (without using that dread, hackneyed term). Also, the family still has the problem that Ewen Macdonald remains the father to Scott Guy's parent's grandchildren (and possibly husband to their daughter, but I somehow doubt it after her evidence to the court about her husband) ... so there's perhaps a reason why they aren't keen to pound on Macdonald in public.  

Oh, also, the fact that "Scott Guy's wife Kylee tearfully cried out 'he killed my husband' and stormed out of the court" following the verdict's announcement gives some indication of at least her thinking on the matter. 

Their silence on that issue is dignified, but mightn't we wish for more transparency? Perhaps it's too early. But the silence now only adds to the value of that first interview later, be it in terms of magazine money paid to the women involved or in ratings for the news programmes that gets them on screen.

Can I just say that I have NO desire for "transparency" with regards to the Guy family's view on the verdict. Can we just leave them alone as they ask? Please?

And have no doubt, it's the women - Anna Macdonald in particular as of this afternoon - who have the most value to media from here. The competition will be intense - but in most cases respectful.

Oh, please God no. Please, please no. Please?

The family have asked for privacy; I'm curious as to whether they're serious about that and how long they'll wait to speak. Many conversations have already been had.

Could those conversations now wait until the family decide to restart them? 

Another question is what becomes of Ewen Macdonald. You'd think he doesn't have much of a future in this country upon his release, given the court of public opinion.

Whatever future Macdonald has in New Zealand upon his release (which may not be for a while yet, depending on his sentencing for arson and intentional damage ... and note that arson carries a tariff of up to 14 years in jail), it's likely to be the only future he has. I doubt any other country in the world will let him in with those crimes on his rap sheet.

This also puts the onus back on police and their response. Do they re-open their inquiries or do they release a statement that they have taken it as far as they can, insinuating they think the jury got it wrong?

As Tim himself has noted in a comment to his own post, the Police have indicated that while they respect the jury's decision, they aren't looking for anyone else in respect of this crime and aren't going to revisit the evidence to see if there is anyone else they should be looking for. Which speaks for what they think quite eloquently.

Either way, it's another epic fail for the New Zealand Police. They thought the evidence pointed to Mcdonald, but couldn't prove it. How often do they fail in the big cases? From Thomas through Kahui and Bain to Gwaze, the Urewera Four and Kim Dotcom... well.

Well - hang on a moment. If the police had a 100% success rate on prosecutions (be it for murder or otherwise), then we'd have a real problem. Either we'd have a system that that rubber stamps whatever the Police say, or a police force (and Crown Prosecutors) that are overly risk averse. Remember, it's the jury's call as to whether a person is guilty or not - the job of the Police is to place the best evidence they can before that jury to enable them to make that assesment, provided there is a real likelihood of a conviction occuring. 

Not, of course, that the Police are immune from criticism or shouldn't be called to account when they do make mistakes. But I think its wrong to point to the mere fact of acquittals and conclude from these that the Police somehow failed, let alone failed epicly.

Already the fingers are being pointed their direction, with Scott Yorke the first off the blocks to say:

Some people will say the system has failed the Guy family, but those people should not blame the court system. They ought to blame the police and Crown for bringing a case that was always going to end in an acquittal and more pain for the Guy family.

I don't know that this case was "always going to end in an acquittal" ... after all, it took the jury a full 13 hours to make that call. And yes, this shows the evidence wasn't all there in the end. But once Macdonald's involvement in the arson/damage to the Guy's property was revealed and it became clear there was no other identified viable suspect (yes, yes ... there were "possible" others who could have done the deed, but were they really viable?), what were the Police meant to do? If they hadn't brought the charge, then would that have been any easier on the Guy family - knowing Ewen Macdonald had taken all these steps to get rid of Scott Guy, but never testing before a court whether he took the final one? And it's not like there was evidence the Police overlooked in their investigations ... or, at least, we haven't seen any yet. Were they really sloppy or too gung-ho here?

Obviously it wasn't a slam-dunk of a case by any means. But that largely is to do with the lack of forensic evidence that we've become so used to giving us a "certain" outcome, so that when a genuine "whodunnit?" comes along it feels like a throwback to an earlier era.  

So I think Scott's being a bit tough on the Police here - plus he's not being complimentary enough to Greg King and his excellent work severing the threads of the Crown's rope of evidence.

I'm sure there will be others.The other point to note is that Greg King's stakes have just gone through the roof. He'll be the second happiest man in New Zealand right now.

If I ever have the misfortune to be before a court on a murder charge (or other serious criminal matter), Greg King is the man I would want arguing my case for me. And tonight Greg definitely will be happy he's done the best he could for his client.

But knowing Greg, he'll also remember that there's a family has lost their son, husband and father and that no-one is being held to account for that loss. So I doubt he's breaking out the bubbly and kicking up his heels too much.