A Napier man police wrongly suspected had killed schoolgirl Teresa Cormack has had child abduction and sex-related convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal.
Wayne Montaperto, now aged in the mid-60s, has battled for more than 33 years to clear his name, during which he served a jail term, was beaten almost to death in a vigilante attack in Napier, and deported from Australia because of the now-scuttled convictions.
Today he had to wait barely a couple of hours for the news as Justices Peter Kos, Forrest Miller and Patricia Courtney made their decision after a short morning break in the Court in Wellington.
At issue were the convictions announced by a jury in August 1988 in the District Court in Wellington, to where Montaperto's trial had been transferred because of the potential prejudice of staging the trial in Hawke's Bay with the unrelated Cormack inquiry in full swing and the public baying for an arrest.
Montaperto 's problems started soon after 6-year-old Teresa Cormack was abducted from a street on her way to school in Napier in June 1987.
During the intense inquiry, police - looking for possible Cormack case links to other offenders - resumed an investigation of an earlier incident involving four Flaxmere children.
Montaperto had no history of offending against children, but despite his denials he was convicted and sentenced to three years' jail after being convicted on four charges of kidnapping the children and committing an indecent act – the convictions that have now been quashed.
It had become publicly known that Montaperto was a strong police suspect in the Cormack case, which was not resolved until the arrest of killer Jules Mikus in the Hutt Valley in 2002.
While it finally exonerated Montaperto, he continued to battle to clear his name altogether in relation to the convictions, the chance finally coming in October 2018 after Auckland barrister Ron Mansfield successfully petitioned the court for a Royal Prerogative of Mercy and it was sent back to the Court of Appeal.
Behind the appeal was that a juror in the 1988 trial had told fellow jurors Montaperto was a Cormack homicide suspect and that tainted the jury's view as it found him guilty on the unrelated charges, although he strongly denied anything to do with the offences; and Montaperto 's belief he had been wrongly identified
The disclosure was not otherwise revealed until 2008 when a juror, after reading of new attempts to appeal, contacted Mansfield by email, saying: "I may have some information with this appeal that may or may not be useful. The reason for my contacting you is to ensure that all facts and influences of the case are put forward."
In a later interview with independent counsel Steve Bonnar QC, the juror told how they had become aware a police officer had visited the employer of a fellow juror during the trial and disclosed Montaperto was a suspect in the killing.
An affidavit was sworn, and the second juror later agreed to do the same but backtracked.
A juror gave evidence to the Court of Appeal on Tuesday, shortly before the judges' decision, that the appeal was allowed, the convictions are quashed, and there is no order for a new trial.
From Napier but living in Auckland for many of the intervening years, Montaperto could not be immediately contacted today by Hawke's Bay Today, but has told in the past of the "persecution" he felt and the determination not only to clear his name but also to obtain redress for what had followed.
In 1993, he was badly bashed at a property in Latham St, Napier, by a man who during the attack made pointed remarks about both the Cormack case and the still-unresolved disappearance and suspected murder of high school student Kirsa Jensen in 1983.
Long-serving Napier barrister Russell Fairbrother QC, who conducted the unsuccessful defence at trial, said: "I'm pleased. I'm delighted for him. Those convictions should never have happened."
Cormack killer Mikus died in 2019 while serving a life sentence imposed almost 17 years earlier.