101 killing suspects given bail before trial

By Juliet Rowan

New figures show that 101 people charged with killing others have been released on bail in the last two years.

Five per cent of those suspects were convicted of further offences while on bail.

Ministry of Justice figures released to the Herald this week reveal that the suspects, charged with murder or manslaughter, were bailed in the two years to December 31.

Forty-eight were murder suspects.

The figures, released under the Official Information Act, show that 24 murder suspects were bailed last year and the same number the previous year.

In 2006, those bailed accounted for 40 per cent of the 60 people arrested on suspicion of murder. Figures for 2007 are not yet available. The courts also bailed 53 people accused of manslaughter in the two years.

Of the total accused of murder and manslaughter and released into the community, five were convicted of further - but mostly less serious - offences while on bail.

The father of a 2-year-old girl murdered by a man allowed to live at home while charged with an earlier killing, said the number of murder and manslaughter suspects granted bail was "shocking".

"It's extremely high and extremely scary," said Brad Morrissey, whose daughter Aaliyah was murdered by Tauranga man Michael Curran while he was on bail for killing 24-year-old Natasha Hayden.

Curran was sentenced on Friday for the September 2005 murder to a minimum of 20 years and six months in prison.

Mr Morrissey said the courts needed to take the same approach to bailing suspects in serious crimes as was taken to safety in the workplace - make it "a number one priority".

Among current high-profile murder suspects on bail is Chris Kahui, accused of killing his twin baby sons, Chris and Cru, in June 2006.

He was released to a Northland address last month despite five previous breaches of his bail conditions.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust said the amount of reoffending on bail by murder and manslaughter suspects was likely to be higher than the Ministry of Justice figures suggested.

Spokesman Garth McVicar said many offences committed on bail in the last two years would still be before the courts, meaning they would not have been counted in the figures as convictions had not been secured.

He said the trust, which opposes bail for violent and repeat offenders, had also received an increase in reports of suspects reoffending on bail since changes to the Bail Act were introduced in October.

In the past, defendants only had to pose a "risk" of reoffending, absconding, or interfering with witnesses to be denied bail, but now they must pose a "real and significant risk".

Opposition leader John Key has vowed to reverse the changes, which he says have made it easier for people in that situation to get bail.

District Courts acting general manager Lianne Egli said the five murder and manslaughter defendants convicted of reoffending on bail in the past two years had mostly committed minor, non-violent offences, such as traffic offences, disorderly behaviour and failure to answer bail.

She said under the Bail Act 2000, there had to be "just cause" to detain a defendant.

"The legislation demands that primary consideration must be given to the safety of the public and the victims," Ms Elgi said.

Judges were also obliged to consider whether bail conditions, such as curfews, could reduce any risk posed by a defendant to an acceptable level.

The Bail Act contained more stringent provisions for defendants with criminal histories, including offending while on bail. Those charged with serious "specified" offences or who had previously been convicted of such, had to satisfy a judge that bail be granted.

RELEASED BACK INTO COMMUNITY

* Murder accused bailed in two years to December 31: 48

2007 19 males, 5 females

2006 21 males, 3 females

* Manslaughter accused bailed in two years to December 31: 53

2007 20 males, 9 females

2006 21 males, 3 females

* Most murder suspects bailed in the last two years were aged under 30, with 17 in their twenties, and 16 aged between 14 and 19.

* The Auckland and Manukau courts bailed the highest number of murder suspects, with nine each in the last two years. Tauranga followed with eight, and Rotorua and Wanganui with four.

* Five per cent of those accused of murder or manslaughter were convicted of reoffending on bail.

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