Alan Hall hopes there is justice for all sides. Photo / Greg Bowker
A man who has battled for 37 years to clear his name is expected to finally have his murder conviction quashed tomorrow.
Alan Hall was convicted of murder in 1986 and has spent 19 years behind bars for a crime he says he never committed.
Tomorrow his case will go before the Supreme Court where his conviction is expected to be quashed.
The Crown accepted earlier this year in a submission to the Court that key evidence leading to the identity of the true attacker was “materially” altered, leading to a miscarriage of justice.
There were no high-fives or cries of joy when the Hall family heard of the Crown’s submission.
Instead, the was silent disbelief from the 60-year-old and his family who remain wounded by the loss and “what ifs” of Hall’s life.
“This feels like an important step to find out exactly what happened,” his brother Geoff Hall told Open Justice.
“It’s not good enough, they need to open this wide up and find out what happened …. something caused this major failure in the police, court and judicial system and Alan is their victim.”
The case centres around the violent home invasion and killing of 52-year-old Arthur Easton in his Papakura family home.
Easton and his two teenage sons were attacked in October 1985 by a bayonet-wielding home invader.
Easton was stabbed in his liver during the frenzied attack and died of blood loss after emergency services arrived on the scene.
The murder weapon and a woolly hat were all that was left at the scene by the murderer, who was described to be a Māori man, tall and broad in stature.
Hall, who was yet to be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, came to police attention two months later because he owned a bayonet and beanie similar to the ones found at the scene, and was walking in the area at the time of the attack.
Extensive police questioning of Hall ensued and investigator Tim McKinnel said the nature of the questioning, and the vulnerability of a man singled out for being different was problematic.
The description of the attacker, and key witness statements from a man who was in the area at the time, were concealed by police, and a jury found Hall guilty of the murder in 1986.
Hall said he wants justice for the Easton family, and hopes the true killer will be found one day.
The fight for justice
For decades Hall and his family have fought for recognition that he was let down by the prosecution, and he has appealed his conviction four times, three of those being a prerogative of mercy, a process that is one of the highest forms of appeal in NZ.
This week will be his fifth and, anticipated final, attempt at clearing his name.
Hall was 23 when he was sentenced for the murder, with his mother Shirley leading the fight for her son’s appeal right up to 2002.
Selling the Papakura family home, their “safe space”, to pay for legal fees, the Halls were up against a goliath, and family strength could only get them so far.
His brother said the dirt had barely settled on his father’s grave when Hall was taken away to prison, and his mum never had time to mourn.
The first unsuccessful appeal was declined by the Court of Appeal in 1987, and following that Shirley continued to pour her life’s earnings into uncovering the truth.
Kicking her efforts into overdrive, she advocated for her son, accessed documents that proved details had been omitted from evidence, approached key witnesses, and fought for the truth through the media.
Shirley stuck to her motherly instincts and with son Geoff telling Open Justice she used to tell the family: “We have the truth and that’s the only way to live”.
In 2002, Geoff took over the fight.
“One of the last promises I made to her moments before she died I said to her ‘I will see this till the end no matter what’ that was a driving force,” Geoff said.
Shirley was Hall’s biggest supporter and when she died in 2012 still held the belief her son was an innocent man. That fact is cold comfort as she will never see his name cleared.
The Hall family believe the attack on the Easton family was not a lone-wolf invasion as was set out at trial. They believe another home invasion committed by three men on the same day has something to do with the death instead.
Geoff says it is painful knowing the courts had information that evidence was omitted at the last two appeals.
“They had this information there … but they still kept Alan in jail,” he said.
“I knew this wasn’t going to be settled for years, our justice system wasn’t prepared to believe they made mistakes.”
Hall was released on parole in the 90s after serving nine years but was recalled back to prison in 2012 for a breach.
He was only reunited with his family at the beginning of this year, but since that time his mother passed away.
The appeal before the Supreme Court of New Zealand is one for the history books, according to his lawyer Nick Chisnall, who believes there was grave misconduct in his client’s case.
Chisnall said there was an obligation in the Supreme Court to do justice for his client’s case and remove the shadows of injustice.
During Hall’s two appeals in the late 80s and early 90s, information that is now key to this week’s hearing was already available to the court, yet he was still denied justice.
“[The case] has gone through a series of people who have worked very hard for Alan,” he said. “What Tim [McKinnel] and I have done is not standalone, it’s the strands of everything together and the hard work of others.
“But I can’t understate the support of his family who have taken the journey with him and felt every setback. It’s not a cast of thousands but it’s a cast of many and it comes down to the fact that Alan and his family may have lost hope at times but they never gave up.”
Chisnall said as a former Crown lawyer he was ashamed of what happened to Hall.
“To me, it’s an example of what is seldom proved, police altering evidence and the rules of disclosure to convict someone.
“He was vulnerable and the police exploited his vulnerability.”
The Crown has advised the Supreme Court it doesn’t intend to oppose the appeal and accepts Hall’s convictions should be quashed. It would not seek an order for retrial.
Many hands make light work
Zavest Investigator Tim McKinnel, who helped clear Teina Pora of his wrongful murder conviction in 2015, has played a massive role in getting Hall’s case before the Supreme Court, with the help of his colleague Katya Paquin and Chisnall and his team.
McKinnel became aware of Hall’s case after he was asked by journalist Mike Wesley-Smith to make comment for his podcast Grove Road, another paving stone in the winding path to this week’s appeal.
Diving into his research, McKinnel saw “something terrible had gone wrong” for Hall, and he was asked by Hall’s brothers to take on the case. Now, four years on, they will finally have their day in court.
McKinnel said the 37-year wait to clear a vulnerable man’s name is an indictment on our justice system.
The stance the Crown will have is to be considered brave, according to McKinnel.
“I have been and am involved in cases, like Teina Pora’s, where the Crown fight you every step of the way,” he said.
“Crown Law taking the position they have in Alan’s case is commendable. The two women leading the Crown response to Alan’s appeal, Madeleine Laracy and Emma Hoskin, have not only done the right thing, they were also courageous, taking the positions they have.”
The leading causes of wrongful conviction are official misconduct, police interviewing and flawed identification evidence, and McKinnel says all three are present in Hall’s case.
“Alan and his family are in the fourth decade of fighting what is, in my view, an incredible injustice that has ruined a vulnerable man’s life,” McKinnel said.
“Shirley sold the family home to fund Alan’s appeals and died with him still a convicted murderer. That is a tragedy all of its own.”
The three keys
Hall and his team say three key things led to the wrongful conviction, and these will be the basis for their stance at the appeal.
McKinnel said the first is the fact the prosecution hid evidence, acting against disclosure laws, that would have demonstrated Hall was not the killer.
The second is the tampering of witness evidence by the prosecution by removing and adding things to statements that made it look like Hall was the offender that was seen that night in 1985.
The third is the lengthy police interviews Hall was subjected to, something McKinnel refers to as oppressive and misleading as the then 23-year-old spent hours in a hostile environment with no support person or lawyer.
“Given what he went through, it is remarkable he didn’t falsely confess, as people often do in similar situations,” McKinnel said.
“Alan’s diagnosis with autism makes the way he was treated even more dangerous.”
“While his autism diagnosis wasn’t known in 1985, it is obvious to anyone who meets Alan that he is neuro-diverse. In my view, Alan was demonised for being different.”
Closure – but only partially
Hall’s family believe that those who wrongfully imprisoned him should be held accountable.
“Until the people responsible are put on the stand under oath to answer questions we will still keep fighting and moving forward until that day,” Geoff said.
Chisnall agreed that this week’s historical hearing will not be the end of Hall’s journey to justice.
“While it will bring closure there are some important questions that need to be answered around what happened and why,” he said.
In New Zealand, we like to think we are safe from corruption in our justice system, but his family believe if the truth had hit the courtroom in 1986, Hall would never have spent his life in prison.
“Don’t they say you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” Geoff asks.
“They [prosecution] decided that they were the judge and jury and changed the evidence of eye witnesses and hid evidence from the defence, judge and jury that showed Alan could never have been this person.
“The police and crown sat in court when the judge said that if there was any inkling that the intruder was dark-skinned or Māori that it was not Alan Hall.”
Hall wants those responsible to feel their power stripped from them, the same way they did to him in 1986.
He, and others in his team, believe there may still be justice for the Easton family, victims who still don’t know the true identity of their father’s killer.
“I want the police to find the right guy, so the Easton family can finally get justice,” Hall said.
McKinnel agrees and said the “real murderer could still be caught”.
The question of compensation hangs in the air, but the Halls will always grieve the life Hall never got to live.
Things many of us take for granted have been absent from Hall’s life, and events like visiting the Capital city for the first time this week and his wish to travel to Japan will be milestones in his life outside of a jail cell.
But for now, much like his time in prison, he will take life one day at a time.