What can Geoff Levick possibly hope to achieve in his campaign to prove the innocence of Mark Lundy, twice found guilty for the atrocious murder of his wife and daughter? Steve Braunias reports.

There were the familiar sights and signs on the charming stretch of rural road towards Kumeu that I travelled a number of times last summer on my way to visit Mark Lundy, then a free man.

He was staying at the home of Geoff Levick, who had accomplished the incredible feat of working so long, so hard and so ingeniously on Lundy's case that he got him what he promised - a hearing at the Privy Council.

The law lords of London ordered a retrial. Lundy was released. The trial went ahead at exactly this time last year, when Lundy once more pleaded not guilty to the appalling murders of his wife, Christine, and their daughter, Amber.

Six weeks later, he was found guilty a second time and promptly sent back to jail.

Mark Lundy returns to his house he has been bailed to in Taupo after a shopping trip. Photo / Christine Cornege
Mark Lundy returns to his house he has been bailed to in Taupo after a shopping trip. Photo / Christine Cornege

The strawberry fields and the vineyards, the sign offering PADDOCK MOWING and the sign with the catastrophic apostrophes advertising BROMELIAD'S SUCCULENT'S YUCCA'S.

And then Levick's place, with its stream and the hawks circling over the pine trees, and the next-door orchard with black doris plums in splendid health.

And then Levick himself, a small, hirsute character with his moustache and moptop haircut, 70 years old next month, and who was moving more slowly than I remembered. It wasn't age.

One of his best friends had died in a road accident. The funeral was to be held the day after our interview. Shock and grief had taken hold.

But there was something else going on, a different kind of heaviness. It resembled depression and it was to do with Lundy, with the cause that had taken over Levick's life for some 15 years - what do you do with the remnants of an obsession?

You try to make the best use of it. Lundy's defence team of David Hislop and Ross Burn quit the case immediately upon the verdict. He is now represented by the well-regarded Christchurch lawyer Jonathan Eaton. A notice of appeal was lodged last year. Levick is helping with inquiries, to adopt the police term.

The point of an appeal, though, is to present new evidence. It doesn't matter if the jury never heard various information that Levick presented to Lundy's lawyers in the retrial; the Court of Appeal needs revelations that nobody has previously heard, and it has to meet the legal definition of something absolutely new, in mint condition, fresh.

"All I can do," he said, "is to try to find an angle that has not been previously looked at. It's trying to find that new fact. I've already found 10,000! Now I have to find 10,001."

I kept asking much the same questions: "What's the point?" He kept answering in much the same way. Thus: "I have to find evidence that shows an important part of the case against Mark Lundy is fundamentally wrong."

Mark Lundy after the funeral service for his wife Christine and daughter Amber in Palmerston North. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Mark Lundy after the funeral service for his wife Christine and daughter Amber in Palmerston North. Photo / Mark Mitchell

And: "The difficulty is trying to find out an angle which would qualify in law as new evidence. I have to find something new. Something dramatic, that no one knew."

Also: "The mountain that has to be climbed now is a legal mountain. I need to find new evidence that the Court of Appeal will listen to.

"I've got an idea of what that could be, which I won't talk about yet, and the other thing I can do is compare virtually word for word the first trial with the second trial, and see if I can find something relatively monumental that no one else has noticed."

Something "dramatic", something "relatively monumental" ... If he seemed exhausted, it wasn't because of the challenge.

His appetite for investigating even the most arcane details of the Lundy case -- the science of blood spatter, the distribution of paint flakes, the breakdown of stomach contents - is tireless.

"I deal in facts," he said. "Give me the facts, man. But I'm not grappling with facts any more.

"I will grapple with the facts any day with anybody, but I'm having to grapple with the law - what's relevant, what's allowed - and that's not where I'm at. It's extremely problematic from here on."

He went quiet. He was thinking about something. And then he said, "My wife gave me a very interesting book for Christmas. How to Make a Horse Fly, or some bloody title [How to Fly a Horse].

"It's about the kind of mentality you need to be inventive, and creative, and one of the hardest things that the author mentions is that in order to do anything you've got to get started."

He shouted that last word, startlingly, and did it again, when he said: "If you don't start, then you don't do anything. Well, some of the things that I should really do on the case, it just sits in the slightly too-hard basket now.

"I'll look at something and say, 'Well, that will require working on it every day for two months.' And I'll think, 'Do I want to do that?' And I'll say, 'Hmm - no. No, I don't'."

We sat on the back porch so he could smoke, and looked out over the pond and the pine trees. There were occasional kingfishers, a white-faced heron. This is where Lundy used to sit, too, last summer, with a beer or a cup of tea, and the two men plotted their campaign in vain.

I asked Levick, "What did you make of your house-guest?"

He said, "He's a nice guy. He was always very helpful, and very cheery. I'd just bought this place; there wasn't much use sitting around all day talking about the case, so he'd keep himself busy.

"He built that bridge, and the garden shed around the corner. He helped the demolition guys bring down some big sheds."

"Where did you hear the verdict?"

"In the sitting room," he said. "I had the radio on. They said, 'We cross live to the courtroom and we'll pass over to the jury foreman.' But she had such a quiet voice. I couldn't hear what she was saying! And then the announcer came back on and said, 'We've just heard Mark Lundy has been found guilty.'

"So. Yeah." He lit a cigarette. He continued, "But there was no particular drama for me. I more than half-expected it."

Four months before the trial began, David Hislop had sacked Levick from having anything more to do with the defence. They felt he was meddling, and obstructive. It was a bitter blow and left him suddenly powerless.

"I was cut out. I said, 'Do it your way. If Mark's acquitted, fantastic.' But they lost. If they'd followed all my advice, and we'd still lost, I'd be a hundred times more devastated.

"Now I can say, 'I told you. You went the wrong way, and you looked at the wrong things, so what did you expect?' And that sort of helps me get through."

Their crucial blunder, in his mind, was their approach to the damned spot that did for Lundy - the stain on his polo shirt, identified by Texas scientist Dr Rodney Miller as central nervous system tissue.

"He was wearing," as prosecutor Philip Morgan said, "his wife's brain on his shirt."

Levick demanded an all-out attack on Miller's testing as shoddy and plain wrong.

But Hislop took another path, and could only lamely declare to the jury: "Whatever was found on Mark Lundy's shirt was consistent with his innocence."

In essence, it wasn't a lot different from the first trial, when Lundy's defence rolled over and accepted the stain was from Christine's brain.

Levick: "Somebody once said that one of the definitions of insanity is if you do the same things over and over again, and expect a different outcome.

"The biggest cock-up the defence in 2002 did was not challenge [Miller's testing], and pursue the line of contamination. Go forward 13 years and the defence accepted Miller's testimony and pursued the line of contamination. That, to me, is complete insanity."

He also singled out the very brief cross-examination of police inspector Ross Grantham, head of the murder inquiry, as "pathetic".

It was definitely a surprise, to Grantham, who appeared in court with boxes and boxes of notes, and to Lundy, too: "Mark was absolutely horrified," Levick claimed. "He had hundreds of questions he wanted asking."

But the defence absolutely roasted two Crown witnesses - Dr James Pang, who performed the post-mortems of Christine and Amber, and Maarten Kleintjes, the police computer expert.

I asked Levick whether he gave Hislop any credit for those demolitions, and he said, "It would be ungracious and pedantic of me to sit here and say, 'It's not good enough.' But the fact is Mark Lundy's in jail, so of course it wasn't bloody good enough.

"But, you know, it - it's done. It's done and dusted. It's over. I've got to find new things, different things."

Mark Lundy after the funeral service for his wife Christine and daughter Amber in Palmerston North. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Mark Lundy after the funeral service for his wife Christine and daughter Amber in Palmerston North. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Yes, the small matter of something "relatively monumental".

He told the old story he has repeated to other journalists over the years, that he has a phobia of being unjustly imprisoned, and how that horror first attracted him to the Lundy case. I wasn't really listening. I was thinking that Levick, too, was imprisoned.

The second half of his life had taken an abrupt and unexpected turn, to campaign on behalf of a man convicted of two ferocious murders.

Few people believed in Lundy's innocence after his first trial.

After the second trial, who could believe Levick? Who could take him seriously? Wasn't he a kind of madman in the attic, maintaining the innocence of a guilty man? And wasn't he stuck there, doomed to tell the world a truth it didn't much care for?

Lundy phones him every Thursday from Whanganui Prison. He has visited, but it's a long haul there and back, and the permitted hour goes fast.

He said, "We're back on the ground floor. We've been up to floor 10 and now we're back down, and we've got to start wandering up the stairs as best we can."

He was tired and weary but the fire hadn't gone out. Not yet.

Levick's folly, Levick's phobia - whatever you called it, the most important thing about his crusade hadn't changed in the slightest.

"I'm absolutely certain," he said. "Mark Lundy did not murder Christine and Amber."