By PAULA OLIVER
When accused murderer Mark Lundy looked him in the eye and insisted the police had the wrong man, Joe Jessup believed him. The long-time friends were sitting in Manawatu Prison just days after Lundy's arrest for the brutal axe killings of his wife Christine and daughter Amber in August 2000.
Jessup had gone to visit his mate and put the question to him: did he do it?
Lundy did not hesitate. Neither did Jessup.
"I had no hesitation after that. I have no doubt at all. No doubt whatsoever. The more I look, the more I find there are inconsistencies," Jessup says.
He is working on a personal investigation to "find the truth for Christine and Amber".
The pair were found brutally murdered in their Palmerston North home in a case that shocked the nation.
Husband and father Mark Lundy was arrested six months later, and convicted after a high-profile seven-week jury trial.
Lundy has always vehemently denied any involvement in the killings, but his support began to wane following his arrest.
Friends have turned away from him and only a stoic few continue to believe his protests.
Jessup is one of them.
He has spent months poring over pathology textbooks, has made contact with overseas experts, spoken to computer boffins and clarified details with lawyers.
He has a small group of helpers, but shoulders much of the task himself. Asked what motivates him, Jessup replies: "Christine was too good a friend to let it lie."
He is driven by what he calls the unanswered questions of the case, and says he is in pursuit of the truth.
The fact that five people were never eliminated as suspects by police nags at him.
He knows there are inconsistencies concerning lights seen on at the Lundy home on the night of the killings, and doesn't believe the time of death evidence presented in court is correct.
Nobody, Jessup says, ever investigated Lundy's claims.
Jessup may be almost alone in his pursuit of this case, but fighting on behalf of a convicted man has a long history in New Zealand, and he has contacted Joe Karam, who for seven years has fought to free Dunedin man David Bain.
The belief that a conviction is wrong and the battle to overturn it usually spring from a small group or even just one person.
Among the high-profile campaigners who have started from a professional interest are journalist Pat Booth, well known for his work to free Arthur Allan Thomas. That case eventually ended in a pardon and compensation.
Another journalist, Donna Chisholm, took up the case of David Dougherty, wrongly convicted of rape. He was freed in 1997 after new DNA evidence showed his innocence.
Former All Black fullback Joe Karam did not know David Bain when he became involved in efforts to free him. Bain is still behind bars for murdering his family. Karam became convinced that Bain shouldn't be there after closely reviewing the evidence of the case.
Jessup's work is in its infancy and cannot yet be compared to that of Booth, Karam or Chisholm.
But he is pursuing the Lundy case with vigour, despite several of his friends and family urging him to leave it alone and get on with his life.
The question of what drives people like Jessup to take on what can be a huge financial and emotional burden draws a range of answers.
Karam argues that each case is unique, and there is not a particular personality type who fills the position.
He says he can understand a mother or a close friend becoming involved, but that is not what drove him - Bain was a complete stranger.
"What drew me in was not meeting David's friends or meeting David Bain. It was simply an analysis of evidence that led me to believe there was misrepresentation. Seen in its proper light, it suggested he was not guilty. It was not some simple belief that David was innocent."
Late last month it was revealed that Bain's case will be reheard by the Court of Appeal, after a ruling that new evidence meant there was enough risk of a miscarriage of justice to warrant reconsidering the case.
Karam says those who pursue a case need to base their fight on evidence.
He is not involved in Jessup's probe into the Lundy case, but says Jessup will need to see if an independent analysis of evidence shows there are holes that could lead a jury to believe Lundy is was innocent.
"It all comes down to the evidence. That's what matters." Karam says he is motivated by knowing truth is on his side.
The motivation of journalists such as Booth who pursue causes is often put down to them chasing a good story, and getting into investigative work.
Writer Lynley Hood, who wrote the award-winning book A City Possessed: the Christchurch Civic Creche Case, is not a campaigner in the Karam style. She is seen as an advocate for Peter Ellis - the man convicted of abusing children in a creche - but in fact, approached her task not caring if he was guilty or innocent. She says she was interested in the panic surrounding child sex cases and how public outrage could outweigh the scales of justice.
It was only as she researched that she began to see flaws in the case against Ellis and the way the justice system handled the complaints.
"It was an uncomfortable position to find myself in. I wasn't used to taking sides in my books."
Jessup is driven by an emotional attachment to the Lundy family, and a concern that the evidence of the case does not stack up.
"In the beginning it was just blind faith. Now everything I find points to it."
When Christine and Amber Lundy died, he lost a friend. So did his daughter.
Jessup stuck with Mark Lundy in the days immediately after the murders, staying in the background and making cups of tea.
He would hang around until Lundy was settled for the night, and then drive back to his home in Wanganui.
He sat in court almost every day of Lundy's trial. He has known the family since the early 1980s, and credits Christine and Mark with being mentors for his business and his life.
Jessup, who is now a student, says he was the first person Lundy called from the police station after the murders. Lundy's father was already there.
He says he is not on a "free Mark Lundy campaign".
"That is not the focus. The focus is finding the truth for Christine and Amber. Mark knows that."
He can be blunt when he questions Lundy and says he meticulously double-checks everything his friend tells him.
"It all checks out. It might take a while, but everything checks out."
Jessup's workload has taken its toll.
His regular telephone conversations with Lundy at Paremoremo ring up a bill of at least $100 a month.
He has been treated for depression and has had to take a break from the task over the Christmas holidays.
"I have had to walk away from it. I got too engrossed in it."
For now his hardest task is getting disclosure to analyse the case. He is not a licensed investigator, so prefers to say he is "researching anomalies".
Jessup and his supporters are now waiting on test results.
He says Lundy is resigned to spending 25 years in prison unless he can do something. Lundy is said to be coping well in Paremoremo, gets on well with the guards and is not upsetting the other inmates.
"All along he's had blind faith in the justice system. I have no intention of stopping.
"He's extremely thankful that someone has picked it up and run with it."