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HomeNew ZealandMalcolm Rewa pushes for retrial over murder conviction

Malcolm Rewa pushes for retrial over murder conviction

Malcolm Rewa appearing in the Auckland High Court for sentencing. 26 March 2019.

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Malcolm Rewa is fighting for a retrial of his murder conviction of Susan Burdett (File photo).
Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The man most recently convicted of a murder that led to one of New Zealand’s biggest miscarriages of justice wants his fourth trial over the matter.

Malcolm Rewa today fought for a retrial in the Wellington Court of Appeal.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2019, after a jury found him guilty of bludgeoning Susan Burdett to death in her Auckland home in 1992.

Before that, Teina Pora spent more than 20 years in prison for the crime.

Rewa watched today’s hearing via an audio-visual link from prison. He is serving a sentence of preventive detention with a minimum non-parole period of 22 years for rape and other offending against 25 women.

His lawyer, Mark Ryan, told the court Rewa failed to get a fair hearing – saying one witness did not answer questions put to him, and that Rewa’s former counsel did not do his job properly.

He argued the witness, whose name and other details have been suppressed by the court, and who was in a sexual relationship with Susan Burdett, had motive to kill her.

Ryan said Justice Venning’s warning to the witness that he had the right not to say anything which could incriminate himself meant the jury was not able to observe him answer.

“It fettered the cross-examination of (suppressed) by trial counsel to a degree where the jury was deprived from observing (suppressed) when he gave his evidence on these crucial factors.”

Ryan also argued Rewa’s former lawyer, Paul Chambers, had never worked a murder case, and defended him pro-bono because he was not allowed to do legal-aid work.

He said Chambers’ closing argument was unconventional and inappropriate, and Justice Venning had to tell the jury to disregard some of his comments because they were not based on evidence.

“He described himself as having lapses in memory, difficulties with multi-tasking, and provides that as explanation why he lost documents he was meant to put to witnesses, but didn’t, and difficulty in asking coherent questions.”

Rewa expressed his dissatisfaction with Chambers and told him on the second day of his trial that he did not want him as his lawyer any more, Ryan said.

But lawyers for the Crown said there was no record of this.

Rebecca Thomson told the court the jury already knew the facts of the sexual relationship between the witness and Burdett, so it did not matter that he refused to talk about it.

“In fact, the jury saw him respond 10 times to questions about that sexual relationship. Every time he declined to answer.”

Thomson said this was actually in the defence’s favour, as they were able to contrast this to Rewa’s willingness to answer questions.

Chambers was also able to cross-examine the witness on other topics, she said.

Senior counsel for the Crown Mark Lillico argued that while the defence’s closing argument was a little unusual, it still made sense.

He told the court Chambers was trying to show the jury that another witness who changed her story may have had trouble remembering the facts because of post-traumatic stress.

“To try and enhance the credibility of defence witnesses,” he said.

“But that’s all across something like two pages of the closing, and after we get that rather unconventional start out the way he’s off, that is Mr Chambers, making pretty conventional points.”

The justices reserved their decision, and will release it later in writing.

An earlier bid to overturn Rewa’s conviction was delayed after judges asked Chamber to provide a medical certificate showing he was fit to represent his client.

Susan Burdett’s murder led to one of New Zealand’s most well-known miscarriages of justice.

Teina Pora convictions for the crime were quashed by the Privy Council in 2015.

He received more than $3.5 million dollars in compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment.

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