A man who burned his friend to death over $30,000 made a jailhouse confession to two police officers posing as fellow prisoners after police set up an elaborate sting.
Nearly four years after the January 2013 death of Shalvin Prasad, and debates in three courts, details of the sting can finally be revealed.
Almost weeks after the death, police launched Operation Heath, targeting Shivneel Kumar as a primary suspect in the murder.
Two undercover officers - one of whom was Fijian-Indian like Kumar - were given a "subject profile" on the then 18-year-old. The file included his criminal history, details on associates, vehicles, interests, likes, dislikes, places he liked to hang outs, his drinking and smoking preferences, religion and family.
They were told to use a cover story to develop a rapport with the defendant "to a stage where the target will feel comfortable talking about his own criminality".
Three days later police picked up Shivneel Shahil Kumar, who was then 18, from his house and took him to Manukau police station for a two-hour interview.
At 4pm, he was formally arrested, charged with murder, processed and told he would appear in Manukau District Court the next morning and, significantly according the Court of Appeal, was told police did not intend to speak further with him.
He was put in a cell alone.
Just after 6pm, the two undercover officers were processed on fake methamphetamine charges and put in a cell together.
Kumar was then informed his toilet was broken and was moved into the cell with the two cops, who immediately started up a conversation with him.
The officers tell him to get a good lawyer and ask him whether Permal is likely to nark on him.
He told them he had killed Prasad with one punch and had then burnt his body in an attempt to destroy evidence.
"I'll be dead honest to you, when this s*** happens bro my mind ran around the world bro, ran a million miles per second, the only thing I could think of was the only way I could leave no evidence was burning ... Fire gets rid of the fingerprints, everything," Kumar said.
"They can't even prove that I actually murdered ... all they can say is that I possibly murdered."
There was also a discussion about money and Kumar told them the victim owed him $74,000 for drugs - an assertion never raised at trial.
Debate on evidence
Initially the conversations they recorded were allowed as evidence in the trial.
Justice Geoffrey Venning ruled it "was not akin to an interrogation" and Kumar seemed relaxed and keen to talk to the undercover officers.
But the Court of Appeal ruled them inadmissible and overturned the decision, slamming the police's underhanded tactics to actively elicit information from the defendant after he had chosen to end his formal interview.
Justices Harrison, Courtney and Clifford said the officers breached Kumar's right to silence under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
"Mr Kumar's right [to silence] was of fundamental importance and the state's intrusion upon it was very serious," the court ruled in a decision.
"We are satisfied the use of Mr Kumar's statement in evidence would call into question the credibility of our system of justice."
The Court of Appeal said the police had deceived Kumar's lawyer when they told him he would not be spoken to again that evening.
It also rejected the view that the disclosures had come without being actively prompted.
"This was not a casual, natural or free-flowing exchange," the court said.
"Instead it was deliberately directed by the officers to subjects which might encourage Mr Kumar to speak about the murder.
"We are satisfied that the officers directed the conversation in this way to elicit information which Mr Kumar would not otherwise have given. It is an example of the officers coaxing and cajoling him into a confession."
Fighting the charge
At trial, Kumar was painted as "the instigator and driving force" behind the murder of his 21-year-old friend and the Crown said it was he who took most of Prasad's stolen life savings.
He persuaded the victim to withdraw the cash, despite already owing him more than $8000, before meeting and attacking him with the help of Bryne Permal.
The Crown case was that the assault left Prasad in a state of deep unconsciousness and he was bundled into the boot of a car while the defendants bought 15 litres of petrol.
He was doused in the fuel on McRobbie Rd in Kingseat and burned to death.
A post-mortem revealed he had been alive at the time of the fire but defence lawyers argued their clients thought he was dead.
Kumar, and Permal, 23, were found guilty at trial of the murder of Shalvin Prasad after his charred remains were found on a rural South Auckland road on January 31, 2013, after two gruelling days of jury deliberation.
They were each jailed for life with a minimum of 17 years when they were sentenced in May last year.
Bids by the killers to overturn their conviction and minimum period of imprisonment were thrown out by the Court of Appeal last month.
It was then taken to the Supreme Court, which this month denied Kumar and Permal leave to appeal, allowing the Herald to reveal the undercover tactics of the police.
HOW THE CONFESSION WAS MADE
- Shalvin Prasad's burned body is found beside a rural road in south Auckland.
- Police launch Operation Heath, targeting Shivneel Kumar as a primary suspect in the murder of Shalvin Prasad. Two undercover officers - one of whom was Fijian-Indian like the defendant - are given a "subject profile" on Kumar.
- Police question Kumar about the murder and at 4pm he is formally arrested and charged. Just after 6pm the two undercover officers are processed on fake methamphetamine charges and put in a cell together. Kumar is informed his toilet is broken and is moved into the cell with the two cops. Kumar eventually tells them he killed Prasad.
- Kumar appears in Manukau District Court charged with the murder of Prasad, along with Bryne Permal.
- After two days of deliberation, a jury finds the pair guilty of murder.
- Kumar and Permal are jailed for life with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.
- The pair's appeal against conviction and minimum period of imprisonment are thrown out by the Court of Appeal
- Supreme Court denies Kumar and Permal leave to appeal