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

Judge: Teina Pora innocent, entire Crown case rejected

The entire Crown case against Teina Pora has been rejected by a retired High Court judge contracted to review the case by the Government. Phil Taylor examines the report released today.

Teina Pora's confessions underpinned the case against him for the 1992 murder and rape of Susan Burdett. The Crown said there was evidence that independently incriminated Pora and showed he knew Malcolm Rewa who was convicted in 1998 of her rape after he was linked by DNA to the crimes. Justice Hansen, QC, a retired High Court judge appointed by the Government to review the case has rejected each plank of the Crown case.

THE CONFESSION

Teina Pora
Teina Pora

Hansen said that Pora suffers from "undisputed cognitive deficiencies" and that his condition is a "plausible explanation for the profusion of contradictions, inconsistencies and outright falsehoods in [Mr Pora's] statements.

"His responses to questions are often halting, hesitant, incoherent and sometimes simply bizarre. In all sort of ways the interviews impress as providing graphic confirmation of the diagnosis of FASD Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder]."

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"The deficiencies in Mr Pora's account of events are of such magnitude and importance that, if judged as an eye witness account and not as a confession, his evidence would be dismissed out of hand."

His confessions can only be redeemed if supported by objectively verifiable facts.

Aspects that raised doubts about reliability:

• Pora said he followed Ms Burdett's car all the way to her home. But could not recall the colour, make, or even if it was big or small. "For an experienced car thief, this seems extraordinary".
• Pora couldn't show detectives the route. He gave conflicting accounts of where he dropped off those he said were co-offenders.
• Pora didn't recognise the house. He claimed the hedges was smaller when the murder occurred when scene photos showed they were much higher.
• Pora provided a succession of differing accounts about how entry was gained and about what happened inside.
• The Crown said that only someone who was directly involved is likely to have made the disclosures that Pora did.

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Hansen's conclusion:

"The disclosures relied on by the Solicitor-General as confirmatory of Mr Pora's presence at the scene have been shown to be readily susceptible to explanation that do not require his presence. Collectively, they add to the concern that his claim to have been present was a clumsy concoction which simply cannot withstand critical scrutiny ...
His narrative ... does not disclose a single item of evidence that could be explained only by Mr Pora's presence at the scene. Perhaps the most obvious omission in that regard is the identity of his putative accomplices. If he was with Malcolm Rewa, why did he not name him? Why risk the wrath of the Mongrel Mob by naming Dog and Hound if he was in a position to identify the real culprit?"

Followed Ms Burdett from Super Strike

"He did not have to be there to provide this information. In any event, his account of how Ms Burdett was followed was totally unconvincing. Among other things, Mr Pora could not remember the route or the make and colour of her car, or even whether it was big or small. "For an experienced car thief, this seems extraordinary."

Mode of entry

Pora said he climbed through bedroom window and let others in through the front door, a description the Crown claimed matched the scene. This version was selected from many contradictory comments on the point made by Pora.

Number of bedrooms

Pora said two or three. "As the vast majority of homes - certainly those that Mr Pora is likely to have encountered ¬ will have that number of bedrooms, I do not think any significance can be attached to his answer.

The shower

Pora said when he got into the house Ms Burdett was in the shower.

"But there is no evidence that Ms Burdett in fact had a shower when she got home. The presence of clothing in the laundry basket merely shows she changed out of some (at least) of the clothes she was wearing when she got home. What he said on the point is as likely to be wrong as right."

Ms Burdett's attire

Pora said he thought she was wearing a nightie when she came out of the shower. This was identified as knowledge likely to have been gained by his presence at the scene. "I regard it as quite the opposite. A person who was not at the scene could well have made an educated guess ... on the basis that that is what many women wear to bed. In fact she appears to have been clad in a bra and tee shirt when attacked."

Number of blows

The Crown refers to passages of Pora's interviews in which he said Burdett was "whacked" in the head three to five times with a softball bat. This was said to accord with the pathological evidence that Burdett was struck six times in the head and once in the back with a heavy implement.

Pora's accounts varied from two to five blows but made no reference to her apparent attempts to defend herself or to a second series of blows (that her neighbour reported hearing). That she was killed by blows to the head and the likely use of a softball bat had been reported in the media from an early stage.

"In my view what was said by Mr Pora to the Police provides scant support for the proposition that he was present."

The bedroom light

Pora said yes when asked whether the bedroom light was on. This was said to accord with a bloodstain on the switch that implied that the light had been turned off after the offending.

But Pora also said the light was off and also that he couldn't remember. The bloodstain "is highly equivocal evidence" of the light having been on. It is impossible to make any finding whether the light was on at any stage. Pora's statement that it was on at some stage "was arguably the preferred if not obvious answer to a leading question in circumstances where he was seeking to persuade his interrogators that he had seen what happened."

Briefcase in spare room

Pora said that while looking for money he had opened a briefcase in the spare room that contained "just papers and that". The Police found a briefcase in that room. The locks were disengaged and there appeared to be two sheets of paper on the floor. It was said what was found corresponded closely to what Pora described.

The briefcase was found on the bed. Pora first described it as a suitcase and said it was on the floor. "It is apparent that Detective Inspector [Steve] Rutherford was concerned to establish that Mr Pora had encountered the briefcase and to obtain confirmation from him that he had opened it and placed it on the bed. I find this curious as to that point there had been no reference to a suitcase or briefcase ... The way in which the briefcase had been introduced into the interview indicates there had been a reference to it during prior informal exchanges between police officers and Mr Pora.

Regardless [scene photographs] do not suggest to me interference by an intruder. I find their placement more consistent with the occupant having opened the briefcase, a conclusion I infer the police themselves reached until they interviewed Mr Pora in 1993."

Search for money

Pora said he checked under the bed by lifting up the mattress in the spare room while looking for money. This was said to be consistent with the appearance of one of the two beds in the room.

"I can see nothing [in scene photographs] in the appearance of the spare bedroom to indicate that it was interfered with in any way by intruder/s. That also appears to be what the Police themselves concluded until the [interview with Pora]."

Absence of fingerprints

Pora's comment that he and co-offenders wore gloves was consistent with the absence of fingerprints.

"It is commonplace for offenders to seek to conceal their identity by this means and the obvious way in which Mr Pora would explain the absence of fingerprints."

INDEPENDENT EVIDENCE SAID TO CORROBORATE THE CONFESSION

Teina Pora opening up to the New Zealand Herald in May 2015. Photo / Nick Reed
Teina Pora opening up to the New Zealand Herald in May 2015. Photo / Nick Reed

Hansen's conclusion:

"The evidence relied on by the Crown as corroborating key elements of the confession has failed to survive critical examination. There is no credible evidence to show that Mr Pora was at Super Strike on the night of the murder. The evidence that he washed a bloodied rugby league jersey in the days following the murder has been exposed as fundamentally flawed. The finding of the baseball bat [in a drain near the Manukau Velodrome] seems likely to have been pure coincidence and to be, as initially concluded by the Police, a complete red herring. All the indications are that the evidence linking Mr Pora with articles alleged to have been stolen from Ms Burdett has been invented or imagined.

"That part of the Crown case relies heavily on the evidence of Martha McLaughlin [Pora's cousin]. I have had reason to doubt the reliability and accuracy of her evidence in numerous respects. I find it curious that she should have emerged from comparative obscurity in 1995 to become, in time, a key Crown witness. Mr Pora's advisers believe she was motivated by the prospect of a reward. Her mother [Terry McLaughlin, Pora's aunty] had, afterall, received a significant sum the year before. Martha claims not to have received anything. The Police cannot be sure as their records are incomplete. I do not need to resolve the issue. It is sufficient to say that the role of Mr Pora's extended family generally, and Martha and her mother in particular, is one of the more disquieting features of a worrying series of events."

Bloodied rugby jersey

Evidence from family members that there was blood on Pora's jersey was conflicted and unreliable. It also conflicted with Pora's statements that he wore a tee shirt or singlet.

The baseball bat in the drain

Found in a drain at the Manukau Velodrome, provides an arguable link between Pora and the murder. Pora had made comments that could be interpreted as indicating knowledge of its being used in the attack.

"While it is impossible to make firm findings in the face of the conflict of evidence, I tend to the view that the finding of the bat in the drain at the Velodrome so soon after the murder was purely coincidental ... The Police retrieved the bat on 6 April 1992 but did not treat it as a possible murder weapon. They presumably reached the obvious conclusion that the most likely murder weapon was the softball bat found at the scene ...
Forensic tests were undertaken to see if the bat from the drain could be linked to the crime scene. It was reportedly dry and flaking and might be expected to have produced particles if used as a murder weapon. The tests were negative."

Stolen property

Until Pora was interviewed only two items were believed to have been taken - a Westpac credit card and a compact camera.

It was made public soon after the murder that a compact camera was believed to have been taken. What Pora is likely to have known only if he had been present is what the camera looked like.

"He described it as a 'film, video camera'. His demonstration of how he carried it under his arm indicated an object a great deal larger than a compact camera. What he said in his interview indicates he had no idea what the stolen camera looked like."

Pora said in his interview that he took one of two wallets that was "in the open" in a bedroom or the sitting room. He said it contained cash, ASB credit cards and Super Strike cards. He said he burned the wallet and cards.

"There is no evidence that a wallet was taken. Ms Burdett's wallet was found in a leather handbag hidden in the wardrobe of her bedroom ... Mr Pora's claim to have taken the wallet and cards from a handbag that was "in the open" seems to have been pure guesswork."

Trophy

The possible theft of a bowling trophy was mooted for the first time in the course of the Police interview with Pora in March 1993.

Pora had not mentioned the theft of a trophy when he talked about taking the camera and wallet, nor had he mentioned the trophy display that had been on shelves in Ms Burdett's spare room when taken into the room by Police.

"It came up for the first time on 21 March, prompted it seems by an off-the-record conversation Pora had with Detective Sergeant [Mark] Williams the previous Friday ... In my view Teina Pora's claim to have taken a trophy is a fabrication, pure and simple. His attempt to describe how he took it is utterly unconvincing."

Hansen considered Pora's cousin, Martha McLaughlin, to be mistaken in her recollection of a conversation about a trophy prior to Pora's arrest.

Jewellery

Claims that Pora had stolen jewellery from Ms Burdett's house came from members of Mr Pora's extended family. It played no part in the first trial but became an important part in the Crown case at Pora's retrial.

In essence it was claimed Pora stole a pair of blue leaf earrings from Ms Burdett's house and gave them to his sister Lobelia.

The scene examination gave no indication that jewellery may have been taken. Ms Burdett's mother told police her daughter did not have blue leaf earrings. However, in 1997 (after semen at the scene was linked to Malcolm Rewa) in response to renewed police inquiries, a friend of Ms Burdett's found a photo of her wearing leaf earrings.
Lobelia Pora did not give evidence at Pora's retrial.

The Crown has suggested she was not receptive to police but she says she told a police officer Pora had never given her earrings or any other jewellery. She had also told the officer that because her left ear gets infected when pierced, she can only wear an earring in her right ear.

There were a number of concerns about this part of the Crown case, the most obvious being that "it required yet another remarkable feat of memory by Martha McLaughlin to be able to recall many years later the earrings she saw her cousin wearing in the months following the murder".

"What emerges is that the decision of the Police to focus on a pair of leaf earrings was prompted by a passage in a statement by Paula Pora [Pora's half-sister] which she later retracted as largely fabricated.

"This part of the Crown case has its genesis in the mischievous attempts of family members to incriminate Teina Pora in 1992. It achieved its final expression in the evidence of [cousin] Martha McLaughlin given only after she reminded Detective Sergeant Williams of her ability to recall the appearance of the earrings worn by her cousin eight years hence. I regard this evidence as of no more worth than the discredited statement Paula made in 1992."

EVIDENCE OF ASSOCIATION WITH MALCOLM REWA

Malcolm Rewa. Photo / Supplied
Malcolm Rewa. Photo / Supplied

Conclusive evidence that Rewa was involved [which emerged in the form of DNA about the time he was arrested in May 1996] obviously called for a review of the police case against Pora. It was necessary to confront the possibility that Rewa had acted alone. The alternative scenario, consistent with the police theory to that point, was that Rewa was one of Pora's two accomplices. Rewa was a senior member of the Highway 61 gang, Pora was connected to the Mongrel Mob.

The gangs were enemies.

"It did not take long for evidence to emerge that supported the alternative scenario."

The extended family was involved again, along with a jailhouse informant and a woman who had connections to the Mongrel Mob and a pre-existing, if distant, relationship with Rewa.

Hansen's conclusion:

"Evidence of an association between Teina Pora and Malcolm Rewa that predated the rape and murder of Ms Burdett became focal to the police investigation. After Rewa was identified as the rapist by DNA evidence, Detective Sergeant [Mark] Williams wrote in his notebook: 'Who should we see to show an association between Hama [Rewa] and Teina'. The possibility that Malcolm Rewa may have acted alone seems to have been excluded ... those who could and did provide evidence of association were not those whom it might be thought were best placed to do so."

Instead it was Martha McLaughlin and an a jailhouse informant, who "went out of their way to help the police".

"It is not clear why either did so. The agenda of each was suspect. Neither had identified a person who matched the description of Rewa when giving statements before Rewa's arrest. The process by which they identified Rewa from a photograph the following year was seriously flawed. In my judgement the evidence of an association between Teina Pora and Malcolm Rewa at or around the time of Susan Burdett's murder cannot be relied on. I consider it most unlikely that Rewa moved in Mongrel Mob circles in 1992-1993 or at any time."

OVERALL FINDING

Teina Pora after training with friend Steve Hodge on the rooftop of his Karangahape Road apartment. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Teina Pora after training with friend Steve Hodge on the rooftop of his Karangahape Road apartment. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Malcolm Rewa acted alone and was solely responsible for the crimes.

"There is no credible evidence to show that he was accompanied by Mr Pora."

"Mr Pora has established on the balance of probabilities that he is innocent of the crimes ... Indeed, the state of the evidence is such that, in my view, he could have proved his innocence to an even higher standard."

• Read: Justice Minister's apology letter to Teina Pora

• Read: Timeline - Teina Pora case

- NZ Herald

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