Phil Taylor

Phil Taylor is a Weekend Herald and New Zealand Herald senior staff writer.

Reasonable doubts

Susan Burdett was bludgeoned to death 20 years ago but questions are growing over whether the right man was convicted of her rape and murder. Phil Taylor explains why.

Susan Burdett. Photo / Supplied
Susan Burdett. Photo / Supplied

In March 1992 Susan Burdett, a 39-year-old accounts clerk who lived alone, was raped and murdered after returning to her Papatoetoe unit following an evening of 10-pin bowling.

A colleague found her after she failed to turn up for work the next day. Her naked body was on her bed but for her legs, which were draped over the edge in a fashion that appeared to have been posed by her killer. Her head and upper body were covered in bedding. Beside her lay a softball bat that she kept in her bedroom for protection. She had been raped and died from blows to the head.

Two men were eventually convicted. Teina Pora has twice been convicted of her rape and murder. Malcolm Rewa, whose semen was found in her body, was convicted of her rape at a second trial.

1 Why does the case continue to be controversial?

The only forensic evidence in the case was semen, which was eventually matched by DNA to Rewa. By the time that link was established Pora, a young local hood, was already in jail for Burdett's rape and murder.

The problem for the prosecution, which was then forced to argue that Rewa and Pora carried out the attack together, is that Rewa has a track record as a lone serial stalker rapist and has been convicted of attacks on 24 other women on that basis. He and Pora were from rival, possibly warring, gangs. Rewa was 40 and a senior member of Highway 61 while Pora was a 16-year-old Mongrel Mob associate.

2 What do the police say happened?

There were possibly four offenders. The Crown case in court was that Pora was not the killer but that he was there with Rewa and others.

3 What does Pora's defence say?

Rewa was the only person involved. He used deadly violence on this occasion either because Susan Burdett fought him or because she recognised him. She was described by family and friends as feisty. There was a suggestion that they may have met previously.

4 Did Rewa have an explanation for the presence of his semen?

He claimed he and Burdett were having a secret affair and that earlier that evening they had shared a wine, an Ecstasy tab and had sex at his place before she returned to her home. However, no semen was found on her underwear, indicating sexual intercourse occurred after she undressed at home. The Crown also claimed no sign of the drug was found in her system.

5 Is there any physical evidence to link Pora to the crime?

No. A camera and a bankcard were believed to have been taken from Burdett's house. These have not been found. There was evidence from a witness with name suppression that Pora gave a relative a pair of earrings belonging to Burdett. That relative was not called to give evidence and is understood to have since denied the claim. Earrings were not said to be missing.

6 How did Pora enter the picture?

Pora was picked up on an arrest warrant for unrelated matters in March 1993, almost a year after the murder. By this time the original homicide inquiry team had been halved due to a lack of new leads. Pora knew of the case not just from media but because he had provided a blood sample as part of a massive sweep. The sample did not match the semen and at that stage he was not regarded as being involved.

While being held on the warrant he asked police whether they had anyone for the Burdett homicide and indicated he knew who was responsible. He was told of a $20,000 reward and indemnity for anyone with information who had only a minor role.

Pora then made a series of statements, including nine hours which were recorded on video, during which his account evolved from claiming he drove the two senior Mongrel Mob members and acted as lookout, to entering the home after hearing noises and seeing the crimes being carried out, to stating that he held Burdett down by the arms. The gang members he named were cleared by DNA and alibi and a pathologist testified that no marks were present on her body consistent with her being forcibly held down.

Pora's camp say that for someone who supposedly committed the crime, he didn't seem to know what he had done. Pora got lost taking the police to the scene and, once taken to the right street, was unable to point out her home unprompted.

7 Are there new developments?

Yes. Pora has filed notice of an application for the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, a process whereby the Governor-General can order a fresh trial.

New evidence is said to have been gathered that "tends to impeach" some witness testimony that helped convict Pora in his second trial. He was convicted the first time on his own confessions and the second time on his confessions plus testimony from a jailhouse informant and two other witnesses whose identity is suppressed.

An internationally renowned authority on false confessions has recently reviewed the police interviews with Pora and visited him in prison.

8 Why would Pora make up a story?

To get off unrelated minor charges, get the Mongrel Mob members off his back and claim the $20,000 reward are explanations that have been advanced, along with his youth and low intellect.

In 1996, after the semen was linked to a serial rapist but before it was identified as belonging to Rewa, police offered Pora $50,000 to name the person who deposited the semen. Pora, who was in jail for the Burdett crimes, named a different person to those he'd earlier named. That person was also cleared by DNA.

9 Why wouldn't Pora name Rewa?

The Crown put it down to fear. The defence said it was because Pora had nothing to do with it. They noted Pora hadn't been afraid to falsely name senior Mongrel Mob members.

10 Why would people make false confessions?

Gisli Gudjonsson, professor of forensic psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London, conducted pioneering research into how people might be induced to make "confessions" to crimes they hadn't committed. He identified a range of emotional and psychological factors, such as compliance, suggestibility and personality disorders. This led him to produce the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scales which are now used throughout the world when issues of false confessions arise.

Gudjonsson has recently reviewed Pora's statement to police.

11 What evidence convicted Pora?

He was convicted in 1994 on the basis of his inconsistent admissions. This was appealed and the convictions quashed with Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias saying that the Crown had appeared to be "selective" in saying that Pora told a pack of lies about almost everything except his involvement.

He was convicted again in 2000 on the admissions and evidence from a jailhouse informant and two other witnesses given name suppression that together had the effect that Pora and Rewa knew each other and that Pora had made admissions. Police have refused to say whether any witnesses were paid.

12 How was Rewa caught?

Rewa attacked a woman on an Epsom St in 1996 and fled in a car that was traced to his de facto wife. His DNA was matched to the semen about the same time.

The evidence of a police criminal profiler was crucial to convicting Rewa of attacks on 24 women. Rewa admitted attacks where DNA linked him to the crimes, with the exception of the rape and murder of Susan Burdett.

Most of the convictions were based on Detective Sergeant Dave Henwood's expert evidence about strong similarities in what the offender did in each crime his "signature" or modus operandi.

Many of these factors were described by his victims but some were present at the scene of Burdett's murder, namely covering her above the waist (including her head) with bed clothes, positioning her legs off the bed and stealing items from the house, such as bank cards.

13 Did Henwood testify in any of the other trials?

No. He was not called by the prosecution in Rewa's retrial on the Susan Burdett charges as his testimony that Rewa was a lone stalker rapist did not fit the Crown case that Rewa was present along with Pora and two others. Henwood's evidence would have tended to weaken the case against Pora, who was already in jail.

Henwood was not called by the defence in Pora's retrial (by which time semen had linked Rewa to the crimes). It would be a risk to call a witness if the lawyer was uncertain of what the witness would say.

Henwood, however, had hinted at Rewa's first trial that he did not believe Pora was present when Susan Burdett was murdered in this exchange in cross-examination by Rewa's lawyer, Barry Hart.

Hart: Take the Burdett case for example, in terms of your evidence about signature and so on, it's quite dissimilar in terms of the allegation that the accused was involved with others, I mean you'd have to agree with that, wouldn't you?

Henwood: That's different, correct.

Hart: It's a major difference, I suggest. Agree with that?

Henwood: It is. However, we must also remember that we don't know exactly what happened within the scene and what part different players may or may not have taken, if in fact there were players there.

14 Did Rewa and Pora have criminal records?

Rewa had a previous conviction for attempted rape from 1975 when he was 22. Pora had convictions for car theft, assault and aggravated robbery.

15 Have police made any progress in catching any other offenders?

After Pora was convicted a second time in 2000 the police said the case remained open as there were other people involved. This week, Detective Superintendent Andy Lovelock said unknown offenders were still sought but it was not police practice to comment about "whether they are or aren't involved in investigations ... other than if it is something that is current".

- NZ Herald

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