On a lifetime of parole for a crime she denies, Gail Maney keeps being recalled to prison. But two men who helped carry out the same supposed murder - and a second related killing - have been given immunity from prosecution. Guyon Espiner investigates whether 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards should have been given to the men who confessed to rape and murder and repeatedly lied to police.
Gail Maney will be released from jail in a few days, but remains a condemned woman.
For her, a life sentence for murder means that if she breaches her parole conditions, she can be called back inside at any time, for the rest of her life.
Her crime was asking someone to murder a man in retaliation for a petty theft. She has always denied it and a body was never found.
But two men who say they shot the victim - and then assisted in the rape and murder of a female witness who the Crown says was killed to stop her talking - face a very different future.
Neil and Martin (they have name suppression but those were the names used in Gone Fishing, the RNZ-Stuff podcast about the case) wake up tomorrow knowing they can never be prosecuted for two murders and a rape.
They have a special gift that can only be granted by the Solicitor General, the government's chief legal adviser: immunity from prosecution.
It's more of a trade really, or a deal, and it was brokered by the police: You give evidence against these people we really want locked up and we'll make sure you don't go to jail, even for these horrific crimes.
This is a story about the cards we are dealt by the justice system. It's about one card in particular: the 'Get Out of Jail Free' card, or immunity from prosecution as it's officially known.
It's a gift that leading law professor Kris Gledhill says in this case should never have been given.
Murderer Gail Maney has been recalled to prison. That's the news headline.
Maney was convicted in 1999 for telling Stephen Stone, a 19 year-old she'd just met, to murder Deane Fuller-Sandys because he'd stolen a small quantity of drugs and a leather jacket from her flat.
For more than 20 years she's stuck to her story that she had never even met Fuller-Sandys, let alone had him killed.
Just a few weeks ago, she told RNZ the idea a young woman in a rough West Auckland party scene would have the power to order strip club bouncer Stephen Stone to commit murder was bizarre.
"When the police accused me of ordering a hit, I was shocked because I thought they were just playing some game because I honestly only ever thought something like that happened in a movie."
Stone has been in jail ever since, but lodged an appeal in August. Maney has spent about 15 of the past 20 years in prison. She was first released in 2010, but has since been recalled four times.
So why has she been back behind bars? The short story is she is on life parole. One of the conditions is no drugs or alcohol ever. She took drugs. She got sent back to prison last month, but the Parole Board said yesterday she was free to leave again, subject to monitoring and drug and alcohol counselling.
The long story involves 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards which were given to Neil and Martin for rape and murder, despite them telling dozens of lies to police - including inventing a fictitious murder.
The story yet to come, according to Tim McKinnel, a former detective working on appeals for Stone and Maney, could end with the greatest miscarriage of justice ever seen in New Zealand.
Extraordinary claims call for extraordinary evidence, Professor Kris Gledhill says, at the end of our interview in the RNZ studio on central Auckland's Hobson Street.
He's quoting from the phrase popularised by US scientist Carl Sagan but taken from the famous scholar Laplace's principle that "the weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportional to its strangeness."
Just around the corner from the studio lie both Karangahape Rd and Queen St where many of the strange events in the Stone-Maney case played out.
The action in this drama flicks between the seedy, central city strip clubs of the late 1980s and the bogan party scene in West Auckland, where the key players lived.
The professor isn't here to pick through the socio-cultural mores of the time, although they do seem to play a part in this case. The judges in the 2005 Court of Appeal case felt compelled to note that Stone had a threesome with Maney and her flatmate. In the first trial in 1999, Crown prosecutor Kieran Raftery said Maney's description to police of Stone as "cute and sexy" perhaps showed "the distorted moral values shared by many of this group".
But we're not talking about morality with Gledhill, we're talking about the law, in which he is well-versed, having spent more than 30 years as a practitioner and an academic. He is in the RNZ studio to discuss the question this case now hangs on: should the 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards have been issued?
For Gledhill the short answer is no. Not for these offences.
"These are offences which would lead to life imprisonment - the top of the range in terms of the sentence that's available in the New Zealand legal system - immunity was granted from that. That's a very rare situation."
We'll get to why he doesn't think the immunity should have been given in this case shortly but first, bearing in mind Gledhill's point that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, we need a plot summary.
Let's consider what the simple explanation could have been - the one the police assumed for nearly a decade - and then look at the extraordinary claims they eventually came up with.
On 21 August, 1989, a 21-year-old tyre fitter named Deane Fuller-Sandys set off to go fishing at the rough West Auckland beach of Whatipu. His car was recovered from his favourite fishing spot. Some fishing gear that appeared to belong to him, as well as a can of CRC, a torch and a plastic soap dish, washed up on the tide. But his body was never found. An old school friend later told police that Fuller-Sandys may have committed suicide, as he had just broken up with his girlfriend.
Five days later, on 26 August, a sex worker named Leah Stephens went missing from Upper Queen Street. In June 1992, her body was found in the bush at Muriwai.
For nearly 10 years, the assumption was that Fuller-Sandys had drowned while fishing, or perhaps taken his own life, and that Stephens had been abducted by a psychopathic client.
The extraordinary claims - as the professor calls them - came in the late 1990s when lead police detective Mark Franklin, who after his retirement was jailed for selling drugs in the Cook Islands, tried to link the two murders together.
You don't need to be a detective to work out who the police had in their sights when they investigated Leah Stephens' disappearance. A job sheet from 9 May, 1997 is a pretty good clue. They were already calling it 'Operation Stone'.
The story they weaved - the one Stone and Maney are in jail for today - is an extraordinary one.
It went like this: In August 1989, Gail Maney noticed drugs and a leather jacket were missing from her flat in Larnoch Rd, Henderson. After getting a description from her neighbour, Maney figured the thief must have been Deane Fuller-Sandys.
So she asked Stephen Stone to kill Fuller-Sandys in revenge. Stone, a strip club door man who Maney had just met, agreed to do the hit. But rather than carrying out a stealth mission and collecting the pay, he did it for free and in front of a small crowd.
Stone invited Neil and Martin - the ones who gave evidence against Stone and Maney in return for immunity from prosecution - around to Maney's flat at Larnoch Road.
Stone and six others were there hanging out. A woman at the house called Fuller-Sandys and lured him to the over, diverting him away from his Whatipu fishing trip.
With 10 people crowded into a small garage - with the door open wide - below a suburban West Auckland home, Stone shot Fuller-Sandys with a revolver.
He then passed the gun to four other men - including Neil and Martin - to fire shots into the body, so they would be implicated in the crime.
But Stone hadn't quite covered his tracks with this strategy.
He feared that one of the crowd - sex worker Leah Stephens - might nark on him. Again he decided not to act alone. He took Neil and Martin up to Queen St where Stephens was working.
Stone called her over and, despite having witnessed the murder five days before, she willingly got into the car with the three men.
Stone, Neil and Martin took Stephens back to the same place where Fuller-Sandys was murdered; Maney's Larnoch Rd flat. A small crowd was drinking and listening to music at the house, but the three men took Stephens into a back room anyway. Under orders from Stone, they raped or attempted to rape the woman, before Stone slit her throat.
Neil and Martin then disposed of her body. Stone, who they will later say was an intimidating control freak who coerced them and micromanaged the whole scenario, didn't bother going along for this central part of the cover-up. Even though his DNA would have been all over the body, he left that task to Neil and Martin. They drove to Muriwai but rather than bury the woman they were so worried might blow the whistle, they dumped her body on the ground.
So the house at 22 Larnoch Rd has now become the crime scene of two murders and a rape, both in August 1989. As luck would have it, the next month the police raid the house searching for drugs and stolen property, entirely unrelated to the murder. The search yields no blood, or any traces of the horrors that were committed there.
Did Gail Maney, having narrowly escaped detection during the police search, leave the flat to live elsewhere? No. She stayed in the murder house for another year, only leaving in October 1990, a month before it was sold.
A few months later, one of the women who claimed she witnessed the shooting in the crowded garage - but has since retracted her evidence - moved into the flat.
Does the police scenario stack up? Gledhill has another short answer: "This one just doesn't pass the sniff test, frankly."
He believes the case should go to a retrial or to the Criminal Case Review Commission, which was recently set up to investigate potential miscarriages of justice.
While it is possible the scenario happened the way the Crown and police claim, Gledhill says it would be extraordinary. Remember, "The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportional to its strangeness."
So what propped up this super-structure of a story? What were the pillars that held it aloft?
There was no body in the Fuller-Sandys murder case and there was no forensic evidence connected to the death of Leah Stephens. So the Crown mainly relied on four witnesses; Neil and Martin and two women. The women have both recanted their evidence, saying that at the time they feared losing their children and going to prison unless they went along with the police narrative. Police have denied they threatened anyone. Regardless, both women now say their claims made in court, that they witnessed the garage shooting, were not true.
That's two of the pillars that held up the story severely fractured if not collapsed, leaving Neil and Martin.
So how did the Crown come to give them a new life outside the wire, while Stone and Maney lost a lifetime of liberty?
Picking over more than a thousand pages of police job sheets, interview transcripts, affidavits and court documents in the Stone-Maney case you might experience an unexpected reaction: laughter.
Yes, the entire story is deeply dark. It is a tale of sex workers, drugs, theft, rape, murder and burying bodies in the bush. There are families still hurting with questions unresolved.
But the stories Neil and Martin told police often cross deep into the genre of farce.
Well before the case went to trial in 1999, Neil spent a year telling police about a guy called Steve who, while helping to dispose of Leah Stephens' body in a forest, got spooked and made a run for it. Neil chased after him and hit him on the head with the burial spade, before Stone shot him dead.
"Then can you explain how Steve, who was killed in the forest, is alive and well and talking to us last night," police ask Neil, according to a job sheet from 20 May, 1998.
By the end of the investigation, Neil and Martin have given police three different locations for the murder of Leah Stephens. First it was a Queen St car park; then it was Buchanan St in the Auckland suburb of Kingland, before they finally settled on Gail Maney's flat in Larnoch Rd.
Former detective Tim McKinnel - who was instrumental in freeing Teina Pora, the man wrongly convicted for the murder of Susan Burdett, and is now working on the Stone-Maney case - says these are whoppers rather than inconsistencies.
"They invented a murder. They invented crime scenes," he says. "They're not just small discrepancies in their evidence, they're saying completely different things happened."
Discrepancies include the change in motive for Leah Stephens' murder: First she's killed for skimming drugs from Stone, then out of fear she would nark on them for the Fuller-Sandys murder.
Martin claims he tucked Leah's clothes under some bushes in Muriwai. Conversely, Neil says they burned her clothes - but the location of the fire changes from Massey to Kingsland over the course of the police interviews.
The stories lurch wildly in relation to Fuller-Sandys' death too. How did his car, an orange Hillman Avenger, come to be left at his favourite fishing spot in Whatipu?
In Martin's version, Fuller-Sandys was murdered at Larnoch Rd and then a group of men took off in two cars. They buried Fuller-Sandys' body in Muriwai and then left his car at Whatipu to make it look like he drowned while fishing. They drove back to Larnoch Road, but then became worried about fingerprints. So they drove back out to Whatipu, picked up the orange Hillman and took it back to Larnoch Rd to clean it - all before returning it to Whatipu again.
But these trips, about 35km and an hour each way, did not feature at all in Neil's version.
"One of them says there were repeated trips out to Whatipu to ditch Deane's car. The other one says that never happened at all," McKinnel says. "You don't forget three or four hours of time, even years later."
You might think that criss crossing Auckland, in the weeds of the murder plot, we've lost the main thread of the story - Martin and Neil's 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards. We haven't.
Two of the guidelines for issuing the immunity cards are there in the dead of night, as this revolving cast of people bury bodies in locations which shift, along with their ever-evolving methods and motivations.
One is credibility - and we'll come back to that. The other is that if you give one of these treasured immunity cards to someone, they have to have been only a "minor participant" in the crime.
The principle behind this, Professor Gledhill explains, is that you shouldn't give immunity to people who could be a greater risk to public safety than the person they are giving evidence against.
"Now, obviously, on the Crown version of events [Gail Maney] who's ordered a hit, is a risk. But somebody who's participated in two murders and a rape, I'd have thought, is more of a risk to public safety. And yet the grant of immunity was in relation to all those matters," he says.
"[Neil and Martin] have participated in more criminality than was alleged against Miss Maney. That seems like a disproportionate grant of immunity in that situation."
It's hard to see how Neil and Martin can meet both guidelines. If they are credible, then they were not minor participants.
But we don't know how well the Solicitor General was able to assess Neil and Martin's credibility. Crown Law has refused RNZ's Official Information Act request asking how the immunity guidelines were satisfied.
"It's a pretty important question with a great deal of public interest attached to it," investigator Tim McKinnel says. "What did you know, when you granted that immunity? Did you know that they had given somewhere between 15 and 20 different versions of events before you granted them immunity for rape and murder?"
There are other questions too. Did police tell Crown Law that when Neil was 20 he began dating a 13-year old-girl and moved in with her when she was 14? Or that he had been in a sexual relationship with Leah Stephens before she was raped and murdered?
When you look at the immunity undertaking given to Neil - the actual document which serves as the 'Get Out of Jail Free' card - it's clear that its magic power disappears the moment he tells a lie.
The Solicitor General, writing in August 1998, gives Neil immunity for the killing of Deane Fuller-Sandys and the disposal of his body and for the rape and murder of Leah Stephens and the disposal of her body.
"This undertaking will not protect [Neil] from the consequences of giving or having given untrue information or evidence in respect of any matter," the Solicitor General's letter says.
But time after time Neil and Martin lied to police. In fact, they only reached their final version of events after police showed them parts of each other's video interviews and statements.
Martin says he didn't lie; he experienced recovered memory syndrome.
We can piece together how this all worked - at least in Martin's head - with the court documents and police transcripts.
We even have a transcript of the 1998 phone call between Martin and police, in which he agrees to come back to New Zealand and testify against Stone and Maney.
"I'll tell you the truth 100 percent, but I need immunity from prosecution," he says, during the call at 2.30pm on 20 May, 1998. "I don't want to go to jail for something that happened 10 years ago."
The detective senior sergeant at the other end of the line says only the Solicitor General can guarantee that. "All I can say is that we need you to tell the truth."
It looks good. Martin will come back if police will pay for his travel. They agree to pick up the tab but have a final question for Martin:
"Do you know the name Deane Fuller-Sandys?"
"No, it doesn't sound familiar."
Martin returns to New Zealand to give his evidence, but he doesn't know anything about the man he will later tell the court he shot in a garage and buried in the bush.
In an interview two days after the call, he's bemused at the police interest in Fuller-Sandys. "Am I meant to know this guy?" he asks.
They show him part of Neil's statement, but even that won't do it. "Look, even if you gave me a signed immunity and $20,000, I wouldn't be able to say anything else, because I don't remember being there."
Mark Franklin, the lead detective in the case, terminated the interview soon after and sent him to bed with a warning: "You are going to have to make a decision about where you want to be."
Police picked Martin up the next day, 23 May, 1998, and drove him to the key scenes of the crime, including Larnoch Rd and Muriwai.
Martin had been out with two friends the night before and got home at 4am. But now his mind was, apparently, clear. "I woke up and could remember a few things," he told police. "I accept I was there now. Last night I just couldn't remember. I wasn't lying to you. I want to help. I just couldn't remember."
At Henderson police station, they showed him Neil's interview from three days earlier. "This all fits," Martin says. "I accept I was there."
Police took Martin to see his parents and discussed getting their son immunity from prosecution.
The journey Martin went on - from never having heard of Deane Fuller-Sandys to putting a bullet into his body in the crowded garage - was fully explained in another police statement he made in preparation for Maney's appeal in 2005.
From this distance - the statement was made in February 2005 - he reflected on the weekend in 1998 when he came back to New Zealand to give his evidence to police officers, including lead detective Mark Franklin.
"It was not until the Sunday evening with Mark Franklin there, Mark came in by himself and said that if I don't tell the truth I will end up in a jail cell next to Stephen Stone."
Then it all came tumbling out. "Suddenly Mark Franklin and I were talking and it hit me how serious it all was. I then just closed my eyes, started shaking and put my head in my hands and recounted the whole story which included the murder of Deane Fuller-Sandys."
But the recovered memory only went so far. Martin was still unable to take police to the actual spot Fuller-Sandys was buried. He actually took them out to Piha first, claiming the body was there, before settling on the eventual narrative that he was buried in Muriwai.
Remember - Martin and Neil have immunity for disposing of his body. They cannot be prosecuted for that crime. Yet they won't, or can't say where he is. The body has never been found.
Lead detective Mark Franklin stood by the police work in the Gone Fishing podcast and said it "sticks in my guts" that Neil and Martin walked away scot free.
"But my number one priority was to identify and prosecute the principal offender. If that meant some of the peripheral offenders having to go by, well so be it. I've never had a case where an offender has confessed to murder and rape and been given immunity. But that's not my decision. That's the Solicitor-General's."
Earlier, we said the 'Get Out of Jail Free' cards are less of a gift and more of a deal. You give evidence and in return you get the immunity from prosecution.
But you are not allowed to be offered anything else. Gledhill says this guideline is explicit. It says the Solicitor-General can only offer up the card if "no inducement other than the possibility of an immunity has been suggested to the witness."
In the second trial in 2000, Neil was asked by a lawyer whether he had ever asked for $30,000 to come back to New Zealand and give evidence. "Yes," he replied. "To cover my costs, losing work."
"$30,000 is that what you asked for?" the lawyer continued.
"Correct", Neil replied.
Neil also told the court he wanted business class tickets, a flash car to rent and a penthouse suite to stay in.
When asked if he'd ever been promised $30,000, Neil said: "It's been mentioned I would get compensation for lost wages." He told the court the compensation was mentioned by Mark Franklin - the lead police detective running this case.
Later in the trial, Neil said that while he asked for money he was only given economy flights and basic accommodation, so it's unclear how seriously to take his previous statements.
Gledhill says it's a red flag. "The guidelines make it clear that there can't be any inducement other than the grant of an immunity," he said. "Here, there's at least a suggestion of that from the mouth of one of the people granted immunity ... Which at the very least has to be investigated properly."
Again Crown Law refused to release information to RNZ showing how they claim to have satisfied the guideline about inducement.
"If there's been a miscarriage of justice, we should be setting it right and Crown Law, as the government lawyer, should be playing a role in setting it right rather than hiding behind legal privilege," Gledhill says.
While that might sound like an arcane legal argument, it is very real for Stephen Stone.
And for Gail Maney, who keeps bouncing in and out of prison.
"It hangs over me like... I've got it constantly hanging over me, I can't get on with my life," Maney told RNZ in September, just before she was recalled to prison again. "I've lost all those years of my life and my children - they lost their mother."