Twenty years ago Carlos Namana was jailed for life after beating police officer Murray Stretch to death. In 1999 he was sentenced to life with a minimum non-parole period of 16 years but now he's been granted parole and is a free man. Reporter Kelly Makiha talks to those close to the case about whether they truly believe Namana is a changed man including the police officer's former partner about how she now feels about the man who killed the love of her life.
A retired inspector who helped put a man behind bars for 20 years for brutally beating to death a police officer says he's suspicious the killer has really changed.
Carlos Namana is to be a free man this month after spending 20 years in prison for the murder of Mangakino police officer Constable Murray Stretch.
Stretch's partner at the time of his death and other family members have forgiven Namana and said publicly it was time he was released.
But retired Detective Inspector Graham Bell, who led the Rotorua CIB at the time of the murder, said he was always suspicious of people saying they had changed when their freedom depended on it.
Namana, who was jailed in 1999, was granted parole last month.
"They can't keep him in there forever but as always with people with criminal backgrounds, I am always suspicious of people saying they are reformed."
Bell said the fact Namana underwent a drug treatment programme "didn't indicate great behaviour inside prison".
The parole board decision said Namana had been an IDU (identified drug user) free since 2012 and successfully completed a drug treatment programme in 2015.
"He has spent over half his life in jail," Bell said.
"It's going to be very difficult for him to stay on the straight and narrow. It is a risk but we can't keep him in prison forever."
Bell described Namana as a "little ruffian" at the time of the offending.
"The world will be a better place if he can come out and behave himself."
Bell recalled the inquiry as one of the most significant in his career, saying there was added stress with police hierarchy and politicians crowding around him and his team expecting an arrest.
Although it only took two days to find Namana, Bell said he felt the pressure and he and other officers didn't sleep for those two days.
"It's one thing to go to a murder scene but to go there and see one of your colleagues lying there beaten to death adds another dimension."
Stretch's partner at the time, Tauranga woman Claire Horton, told the Rotorua Daily Post Namana had done everything asked of him inside prison and he deserved to be released.
"He has a huge support group, way more than probably a lot of people, and now it's entirely up to him. I would be really disappointed if he came out and chose to go down that path again. He needs to make some good choices now and stick with them."
Horton said Namana would be used to the institutionalised nature of prisons.
"If he thought the world was an ugly place before he went in, it's a lot uglier now."
She said the family and Stretch's former work colleagues had only last month gathered at his Mangakino grave, like they did every year in May, to mark 20 years since his death.
Just before being kicked and beaten to death, Stretch, a 38-year-old father of two sons, was investigating a burglary and spotted 19-year-old Namana.
The parole board's decision said Namana held a minimum security classification since 2014 and had used his time in prison to obtain a number of unit standard qualifications in carpentry, horticulture, furniture making and engineering.
The decision said a psychological report was described as positive. While assessing his risk of violent reoffending as medium to high and his risk of general reoffending as high, the psychologist acknowledged that following treatment, Namana was considered to be in the "action" stage of change for substance use and community support.
When Namana is released, he will live at a Corrections-approved property, have fulltime employment and have an extensive support network including professional, community and whānau support.
The decision said Namana made extensive and helpful submissions during his parole hearing.
Namana identified his biggest challenge as his risk of general offending. He thought that would be in relation to traffic issues and being on time, needing to know who is who in the new environments, getting his licences and maintaining constant communication.
Namana acknowledged there would be challenges, but he had done a lot of work and was "going to give it his best", the decision said.
The Parole Board does not disclose exactly when in June he will be released. He will subject to special conditions for five years and standard conditions for life.
Namana's parole conditions
• To attend programmes directed by a probation officer
• To be at home between 10pm and 5am daily
• To submit to electronic monitoring as directed by a probation officer
• Not to enter Mangakino, South Waikato and the Tokoroa regions
• Not to possess, use, or consume alcohol, illegal drugs or psychoactive substances