A fine film of sawdust, like sea spray, wafted in the gracious foyers of the High Court of Auckland yesterday morning. Workmen are slowly going about creating new offices on the ground floor.
Now and then someone will pick up a power drill and make it scream, and occasionally there is the lazy tok-tok-tok of a hammer. Further inside the courthouse, in courtroom seven, another sound could be heard on another slow project: the snap of ringbinders, signalling that an end was nigh in the latest and possibly last saga in the long, sad case of the murder of Susan Burdett.
Burdett was raped and killed in her home in Papatoetoe in March 1992. Malcolm Rewa has sat in the High Court this past fortnight to plead not guilty to her murder. The prosecution wrapped its case on Friday; the defence rested yesterday morning.
Few professionals in New Zealand charge more to snap shut their ringbinders than lawyers and they went at it with great aplomb in courtroom seven after Justice Venning confirmed to the jury that all the evidence in the criminal file CRI-1997-404-198997 had been heard.
Only the closing addresses remain, and the judge's summing up. Next month, March 23, will mark the 27th anniversary – it hardly seems proper to use that happy word to mark such a brutal and horrible event – of Burdett's killing. She was bashed to death by some kind of maniac too low or afraid to ever confess.
In those 27 years, Teina Pora was found guilty, twice, of her murder, and jailed for 22 years, until his conviction was exposed as a gross travesty; and two juries were unable to reach a verdict when Rewa was charged with her murder, in two trials held in 1998. Wanted, after 27 years: one maniac to be held responsible.
"You killed your mother," Rewa's lawyer, Paul Chambers, accused Burdett's son, Dallas McKay. "Nah mate," said the son.
"There were other people involved!" Rewa stated, in Crown prosecutor Gareth Kayes' cross-examination. Unfortunately he wasn't given the opportunity to tell the court who these other people were or the extent of their involvement. Perhaps Chambers will illuminate the jury on this small matter during his closing address.
Chambers called Burdett's best friend, Winsome Ansty, to give evidence yesterday. She told the court that she thought she remembered Burdett telling her she was in a secret relationship with a Māori man affiliated with gangs and drugs and who went by the name "Mike".
The descriptions match Rewa, who claims he was Burdett's lover, a romantic who gazed at sunsets with her on top of Māngere Mountain, not her murderer, not some maniac swinging a baseball bat and raping his victim.
In cross-examination, it was revealed that Burdett's friend only remembered all of this in 2012.
Twenty years after the murder. Twenty years after she first spoke to police. "Memories come," she said, "and memories go."
But some memories remain. Throughout the trial, witnesses talked fondly of a woman who loved tenpin bowling, who prided herself on a tidy home, who was straight-up, who wasn't any kind of pushover, who baked things like chocolate slices and bright-eyed Susans ("It's a biscuit rolled in egg white and coconut, and you put jam in it," a policewoman helpfully explained in court), who had leftover fudge in her car to take to work when she parked in the garage of her home 27 years ago on Monday night, March 22, 1992. Susan Burdett was 39.