22 Jul 2016

Smith found guilty of fleeing, passport charges

5:24 pm on 22 July 2016

Convicted murderer and sex offender Phillip John Smith has apologised for his escape.

Smith was today found guilty of two charges, after fleeing the country and heading to South America in November 2014 while on temporary release from Springhill Prison in Waikato.

Phillip Smith

Phillip Smith Photo: RNZ / Murielle Baker

He was captured in Brazil and charged with escaping from custody and a passport offence.

The case has been through a lengthy and complex legal process since then.

In the Auckland District Court today, after a non-contested hearing, the jury convicted Smith on the escaping and passport charges.

Smith has been sentenced to 33 months in jail to be served concurrently with his life sentence.

In a statement released by his lawyer, Tony Ellis, Smith said he regretted the impact his escape had on others.

"I accept that my escape to Brazil was a huge mistake," the statement read.

"I regret in particular the immense impact that my actions have had on others. I will take the opportunity to apologise to many of those people directly in due course. I apologise to the many prisoners who have been adversely affected by my escape.

"I also apologise to the victims of my previous offending for the distress that this may have caused."

"There will not be another escape."

The move to hold a non-contested trial and plead not guilty allowed Smith to retain his right to appeal the conviction, Dr Ellis said, with further legal action being brought in Brazil around how he was removed.

"It was found that that judge was suffering from dementia, didn't know right from wrong, was an alcoholic and was driving around in a Porsche that had been confiscated from a criminal that appeared before him, and he also had his Rolex on.

"So he was told to retire and the Brazilian bar association as well are trying to get, as far as I can work it out because I don't speak Portuguese and everything's in Portuguese, trying to get the last five years or more of his cases annulled."

If that were the case, as well as being able to challenge the convictions by being illegally deported, it could also result in some compensation for Smith, Dr Ellis said.

But he said it was difficult to say how much he could be eligible for.

"There probably hasn't been a case like this before so there's no precedent so I don't know. But I would think we're talking about $30,000-$50,000 of our dollars, something like that.

As for today's sentence, Dr Ellis said Smith's existing life imprisonment sentence couldn't be added to, which meant today's ruling had "no practical effect".

The real impact would be with the Parole Board, he said.

Smith's last hearing with the board was in December last year, and Dr Ellis said he wouldn't be heard again until November 2017.

The future of two judicial reviews around the case are still before the High Court, with Justice Edwards asking council yesterday whether they still wished to proceed. Dr Ellis said no decision on that had yet been reached.

Last year, Corrections said the number of prisoners on temporary release had fallen dramatically since Smith escaped the country in 2014.

Smith was jailed for life in 1996 for murdering the father of a boy he had sexually assaulted, kidnapping and several other charges.

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