Wrongfully convicted man talks of 'living hell'

By Anna Leask

Aaron Farmer. Photo / One News
Aaron Farmer. Photo / One News

An autistic man wrongfully convicted of raping a woman has spoken of his living hell, his two years of complete silence behind bars and the bittersweet moment when he was awarded more than $350,000 in compensation.

Aaron Farmer, 41, was found guilty of raping a 22-year-old woman in a Christchurch street in 2005.

He was sentenced to eight years in prison, but the Court of Appeal quashed his conviction in 2007. Shortly afterwards, new DNA tests excluded Mr Farmer as the attacker.

Mr Farmer told the Herald yesterday he was pleased with the money.

"It was pretty good. But I've been waiting a long time so it's been a bit slow going," he said of the $351,575 payout.

"I'm going to put some money away and buy a house. I'm looking at that. I don't know where though or what I'm buying. I was going to buy a brand new caravan but I might put that on hold now. There's a few other things I want to do."

The sickness beneficiary was charged with rape after the victim picked him out of a photo montage. She told police her attacker approached her on a motorbike, and Mr Farmer happened to be riding around the city on his own at the same time.

The Court of Appeal criticised a detective who handled the case, saying he gave Mr Farmer the impression that DNA evidence implicated him in the rape when it did not.

The officer, who was widely criticised by the courts and his superiors, is no longer working as a detective, but is still working for the police in Wellington. He did not return calls yesterday.

Mr Farmer's trial lawyer Tim Fournier was also criticised for his handling of the case. The Court of Appeal ruled that the jury did not get to hear important alibi evidence that may have swung the verdict. Mr Fournier also failed to return calls.

Mr Farmer said he felt "screwed over". "I'm angry about quite a few things. The police outright pursued me when they had no evidence and I still got locked up. The police screwed me over. I'll pretty much be angry forever."

He said sitting through a trial, being found guilty and then going to prison for a crime he did not commit was "like hell".

"I was in shock for a few days, I just couldn't believe it. I can understand if you're done for something stupid, something you've done. But when it's for something like that and you haven't done it - it doesn't feel good."

Mr Farmer said he stopped talking completely when he went to prison, frustrated that no one was listening to him. He said things "weren't working out" so he just stopped speaking.

"It wasn't that hard,' he said.

During his silence, he wrote to the Court of Appeal protesting his innocence.

Back home in Feilding his mother Bev was also writing to politicians and authorities begging for help.

That led to the appeal, and a written apology from the Government for her son's conviction.

Police are also making contact with Mr Farmer's current lawyer, Simon Shamy, to see if he wants to speak with them.

"It never should have come to this. There were so many things that were wrong. He had an alibi," Mr Shamy said. "The devil is in the detail ... the jury is an amazing machine, but it can only deal with what it is told."

He said Mr Farmer was "rapt" when told of the payout.

"He's been on an invalid's benefit his whole life. He lives on $180 a week. for Aaron, this is Lotto. It's big."

Associate Justice Minister Nathan Guy said Mr Farmer was being compensated for the trauma and loss he suffered because of his wrongful conviction.

The Government is also considering whether to compensate two Manawatu men for their wrongful conviction and imprisonment over a 2003 arson.

Phillip Johnston and Jaden Knight had their sentences quashed on the grounds of misdirection by the judge. In 2007 they applied to the Justice Minister for compensation.

- NZ Herald

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