Key Points:

Physically fit and talkative, Graeme Burton appeared to have ended his drug habit before he was released, says a former Parole Board member.

Judge John Dalmer was among the panel who twice refused Graeme Burton's application to be released into the community and remembers him as someone who seemed remorseful for what he had done and who had successfully battled his 10-year drug habit. But he was clearly not ready for the challenges of living without supervision, he says.

"He had not been tested under battle conditions. For example, he had not had weekend leave."

Dalmer, who retired from the Parole Board almost three years ago, told the Herald on Sunday that the board was moving towards releasing Burton back into the community.

He was a talkative and incredibly fit man who made sense with what he was saying. Not only did he have a job, but he seemed to have stayed off drugs for about two years with the help of counselling.

"The difficulty was that he obeyed the rules. He didn't take drugs and had built up a support group.

"We can't lock him up unless we have a good reason, and we just didn't have that," he says.

Burton did not seem "bad", says Dalmer, who adds that he has dealt with some offenders who seem "really evil". But he suspects that Burton's problem was that he had returned to drug use.

"I am guessing it was drugs, and I reckon I would be right."

Judge Dalmer says that he found working on the Parole Board fascinating and that he believes in the system.

"It is the most interesting job in law I have had," he says.

"I got an insight into people I would never get, sitting on the bench.

"You would sit across the table and talk to the people about their problems, and you would be surprised how far they would loosen up. I would hate to see the Parole Board get slagged off, because the system is good."

He said that before any parole hearing, all the board members read the facts and applied those facts to the law. There are non-judicial members who sit on the board also, to ensure that the process is objective. In the five minutes before the hearing starts, the board will discuss the case and, he says, it is rare for there to be a disagreement.

"We always have a consensus and a direction for or against. It was not difficult, as far as we were concerned."

He adds that sometimes a victim's submission will have a strong influence if there is a persuasive argument, but not always.

Judge Dalmer says that one of the difficulties with offenders on parole is that they go from being under 24-hour watch to being released into the community.

"It happens in one fell swoop, but sooner or later people have to be released back into the community."

Much of the success of the release depends on the ability of the probation officer.

"If they are good at their job... there is a fighting chance."

Judge Dalmer says one in 10 serious offenders are successfully re-integrated into the community.

Notorious and eligible for parole soon
David Tamihere: Convicted murderer of Swedish tourists Heidi Paakkonen and Urban Hoglin in Coromandel in 1989. Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Next parole hearing: June 2007.

Gresham Marsh: Murdered John, 82, and Josie Harrisson, 72, in Waikato in 1994. Sentenced to 10 years' prison in 1994.

Next parole hearing: September 2007.

Gary Edward Ladbrook: Raped and murdered Nora Sole, 83, in New Plymouth in February 1992. Sentenced to life imprisonment in 1993.

Next parole hearing: March 2007.

Sam Te Hei: Murdered 16-year-old Napier girl Colleen Burrows in 1987 by kicking her and running her over with a car after she resisted gang rape. Sentenced to life in 1987.

Next parole hearing: October 2007.

Paul Bailey: Raped and murdered 15-year-old Kylie Smith in Otago in November 1991. Was on bail for attempted rape at the time. Also repeatedly raped a 12-year-old Otago girl in 1989 and 1990.

Sentenced to life imprisonment.

Next parole hearing: March 2007

Bailey Junior Kurariki: Murdered Michael Choy in Papakura in 2001.

Lead offenders were Alexander Peihopa who wielded the bat and Whatarangi Rawiri who planned it.

Sentenced to 7 years' prison in 2002.

Next parole hearing: This month.