A former gang leader who ordered the killing of a police witness has penned an emotional open letter 22 years after the murder.

Brownie Marsh Mane was one of four men convicted for the 1996 killing of Christopher Crean to prevent the New Plymouth father giving evidence against Black Power.

Following his 19-year stint behind bars, Mane decided to open up about the murder of Crean for the first time and shared his experiences of life behind bars.

In a post on the Maori Prison Support Services' Facebook page, Mane described Crean as an "innocent man" and that his time spent behind bars was "nothing" compared to the pain he put the Crean family through.

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"There are no amount of apologies I can ever say to compensate this family for what I did," Mane said.

"I can never wipe up all the tears that have fallen by this family for their loved one so I will never be seeking forgiveness for what I've done.

"The 19 years I spent in prison may seem like a long time to some. In my view, this 19 years is nothing compared to my victim's family.

"Even though it's nearly been 22 years since this crime happened, I can only imagine that their pain and hurt is still very raw and that it must only feel like yesterday for them that this devastating event took place."

Mane, who was the vice-president of Taranaki Black Power's New Plymouth chapter at the time of Crean's assassination, was one of four men convicted of Crean's murder.

Robert Shane Maru and Denis Luke remain in prison, and Symon George Manihera is on parole.

On the night Crean was killed, he answered the door with his baby in his arms and his killer, Robert Shane Maru, decided not to shoot.

Crean (pictured) was a police witness when he was assassinated by a Black Power gangster at his home. File Photo / NZ Herald
Crean (pictured) was a police witness when he was assassinated by a Black Power gangster at his home. File Photo / NZ Herald

Maru returned later that night and shot Crean when he was not holding his daughter.

During his sentence, Mane spent time in Auckland's Paremoremo maximum security unit "with what many would call the worst of the worst".

He described the prison environment as not a place for the "faint-hearted" and said anyone who showed fear or weakness would soon become a victim of sexual, physical or mental abuse.

"I spent five years in the maximum security blocks with what many would call the worst of the worst and they wouldnt be wrong.

"Parry is not a place for the faint hearted and if you showed any kind of fear or weakness here you were going to become someones entertainment whether it was sexual physical verbal or mental abuse, any of the above often took place somewhere behind the razor wire of the maximum security prison.

"Those who spent time in here will know what im talking about. The violence was as pure as it gets: stabbings, bashings, rapes, pack attacks, gang brawls, 'one outs in the rec room downstairs' were a common theme and the men in here trained excessively all day every day and if you weren't training it was soon noticed and noted.

"The prison guards were not immune from the violence either and they often came under attack and everyone was on full alert from the time we were unlocked to lock down.

"Only the strongest and most violent walked the wings of the blocks unhindered but even they had eyes in the back of their heads because you could never underestimate anyone because someone may just try to use you as a stepping stone and so on."

Despite the violent surroundings of prison, Mane started to turn his life around when in 2004 he designed a programme to let youth and their families know the truth about what prison life is really like.

During his 10-year stint in Ngawha prison he re-educated himself, taking part in Tikanga Maori programmes, reaching a level 4 facilitation ticket in adult teaching and working as a storeman for the prison and local New World store.

Mane now says he is "sorry for the things I've done" and "will do my best to help those who wish to be helped".

"I pray one day that my brothers from inside those prisons return to their own homes to help their own hapu and iwi and more importantly their own families as a start."

Liz Crean holds a portrait of her son Christopher who was killed in a gang hit in 1996. PHOTO/ILONA HANNE
Liz Crean holds a portrait of her son Christopher who was killed in a gang hit in 1996. PHOTO/ILONA HANNE

Mane's public apology comes one year after Crean's daughter Stephanie forgave her father's killers.

"I forgive you, not because what you did in murdering my father was right, because that was not right," she said.

"I forgive you even though there was mention of shooting me only at the age of two.

"I forgive you so that you may have peace and I too. So that our families may have peace and so that the community may have peace also. So that the nation may have peace, because that is what is right.

"Whether or not you are changed man, I forgive you."