David Dougherty, the man wrongly convicted of kidnapping and raping an 11-year-old girl, has died. He was 50 years old.

Dougherty succumbed to pancreatic cancer in the early hours of last Thursday morning at his Palmerston North home.

He was acquitted of the 1993 rape charges after a retrial in 1997 with new DNA evidence.

In 2001, he received an apology from the Government and was awarded $868,728.80 in compensation.

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Yesterday, Dougherty was cremated at Waikumete Cemetery in West Auckland after spending the final weeks of his life saying his goodbyes "in his own way" to family and friends.

"He was incarcerated for so long for something he didn't do, and when he came home to West Auckland, he was free - In a wider sense - So we wanted to send him free at home," his niece, Jamie TauHarris, told the Herald tonight.

Dougherty, whom she described as being "like a father to me", will have his ashes taken to the Far North to join his mother's remains.

She said Dougherty had suffered from cancer "the last two, maybe three years" of his life.

"The doctors told him to look after himself but I guess after a lot of wear and tear ... He was in a lot of pain. He actually came up here to stay a lot. He was in intense pain, sleeping was just a nightmare for him, he said."

She said Dougherty had just celebrated his 50th birthday.

"He was up here [in Auckland] and was having a great time.

"My mum was talking to him every couple of days and he was starting to feel quite rotten.

"She got a phone call the morning that he passed to say that he had not woken - he'd died in the early hours of the morning.

"He was such a large-hearted man, I couldn't express his endless love. I'm just so glad he's at peace now."

'Murray, I'm innocent'

Murray Gibson, Dougherty's lawyer and the man who fought for him during his legal battle, told the Herald he had recently received a "poignant" phone call from his old client.

"He finished the call by saying he loved me, twice ... It's something a lawyer doesn't always get to hear from their past clients."

Dougherty hugs his partner Jo-Ann Atutolu after being acquitted of rape in 1997. Photo / File
Dougherty hugs his partner Jo-Ann Atutolu after being acquitted of rape in 1997. Photo / File

Gibson said he had been very fortunate in the way he met Dougherty.

"A scientist that I've previously worked with, Arie Geursen, read a report for David's Court of Appeal hearing, where the court dismissed his appeal, but had made comments that alerted Arie to the fact that something was very wrong.

"I'll never forget that [Dougherty] said to me, he said 'Murray, I'm innocent'. With the assistance of Arie and [journalist] Donna Chisholm we were able to establish that, indeed, he was."

Gibson said Dougherty was "one of the only people I know who has been proven innocent by someone else being proven guilty".

However, he said Dougherty's incarceration for three years had had a negative affect on his client.

"He was working and had a happy relationship with his long-standing partner and children when he was wrongly arrested for that offence.

"I suspect the effects of being in jail for approximately three years, when every day he had to suffer with the knowledge that he was innocent - It took its toll."

Dougherty had several issues with the law after his release, often for alcohol-related offences.

He appeared in the Palmerston North District Court this year for assaulting a police officer last November.

Gibson said he had had a special bond with Dougherty, as did Chisholm, whose stories and continued coverage of the case led to his release and pardon.

Chisholm, an award-winning journalist, who campaigned for Dougherty's retrial, was shocked and saddened by the news of his death.

"I'm feeling awful that I couldn't do more for him," she told the Herald tonight.

"He was a kind, intelligent and articulate man whom I liked and cared for.

"We could get him out of jail but we couldn't release him from his pain - and that's unbearably sad."

Chisholm had spoken to Dougherty sporadically in the years following his release from prison.

A tele-movie called Until Proven Innocent was made about the Dougherty case, in which Chisholm was a main character.

In 2003, Nicholas Reekie was jailed 25 years for the crime, and several other sex offences against women.

Dougherty's fight for freedom

• In 1993, Dougherty is wrongly convicted on charges of abduction and the rape of an 11-year-old West Auckland girl.

• In 1997, new DNA evidence rules him out as the attacker, and Dougherty is acquitted. He had spent three years in prison.

• In 2001 he is issued a public apology, and $868,728.80 in compensation.

• In 2003, Nicholas Reekie is found guilty and convicted of the crime.