By Amy Maas and Adam Dudding
The private investigator who led the effort to overturn Teina Pora's rape and murder convictions says the case of Gail Maney is fragile, and has volunteered to take another look at it.
Maney was jailed for her part in the 1989 death of Deane Fuller-Sandys and the case against her is laid out in Gone Fishing - a true-crime podcast produced by Stuff and RNZ.
Her conviction was based on the testimony from witnesses who were interviewed eight or more years after Dean Fuller-Sandys disappeared.
During her trial the Crown was unable to produce any hard forensic evidence such as DNA, blood-matches or weapons. Fuller-Sandys' body has never been found.
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Private investigator Tim McKinnell was a key figure in the quashing of Teina Pora's rape and murder convictions.
He also helped set up the New Zealand Public Interest Project about two years ago. The group is made up of lawyers, investigators and forensic scientists who are trying to plug a gaps in the way we deal with miscarriages of justice.
On Wednesday, McKinnel said that based on the evidence laid out in the podcast, the case appears to be fragile and there are immediate red flags. He also volunteered to look into Maney's case.
"My first impression of the case is that it is fragile. In terms of the evidence there is a lack of corroboration, there's very little in the way of independent evidence," he said.
"There are concerns around some of the witnesses and their credibility and reliability. There are a number of wavering versions of events before a final version of events is settled on and we've seen that in cases before …. Those sorts of things are concerning and I have questions around the way those statements and that evidence was collected over a period of time."
Maney, who has spent 15 years in prison, was jailed after a jury found her guilty of the murder in 1999. She appealed that verdict, and was given a re-trial, but was found guilty at a second trial.
The court heard she had thought Fuller-Sandys had burgled her home in august 1989, so she asked nightclub doorman Stephen Stone to kill him.
The Crown said Stone then killed Fuller-Sandys in the garage at Maney's home in front of eight or more witnesses.
But Maney continues to maintain her innocence, and said she never met Fuller-Sandys. In fact, she doesn't even believe he was murdered. She believes he may have died after being swept off rocks while fishing.
"When I was charged with murder on July 3, 1997, that was the first time I heard the name Deane Fuller-Sandys," she said.
Former police officer Mark Franklin, who led the investigation into the death of Deane Fuller-Sandys, admitted there was a lack of forensic evidence. He said numerous witnesses gave evidence linking Maney to Fuller-Sandys. They also described the murder at her house.
"I'm sure that she was an integral part of this crime. It was her house. She was the one that instructed, or passed the instructions for something to happen to Deane Fuller-Sandys. What the witnesses said was heard by the jury and the jury made an assessment of those witnesses' credibility," he said.
"I believe she was an integral part of it ... Deane Fuller-Sandys wouldn't be dead if it weren't for Gail Maney. Bottom line."
But McKinnel said there was a growing awareness of the dangers of relying on witness statements alone. Especially from witnesses who had been shown to be liars.
"I've been doing this work for a little while now and some of the behaviours and red flags are some of the things I've seen before in wrongful convictions and so for those reasons alone you should never walk away from a case and say it's done and dusted, it's not worthy of closer examination," he said.
"The other issue is that standards have changed a little bit in the last 20 years. So, disclosure and the rules around offers, inducements and deals made, what is offered by defence counsel.
"Those type of things have changed a bit so that gives Gail some hope there might be something sitting there she hasn't seen yet that might be of value to her case."
In the case against Maney and her co-accused Stephen Stone key witnesses were granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving evidence.
McKinnel said even though the offer of immunity from prosecution could still be offered today, he hoped the standards and threshold would be high.
"That's a fairly substantial carrot for a person who is at risk of being charged of a serious crime. If they're offered immunity that is an inducement of sorts for them to cooperate," he said.
"We mustn't forget the positions people are in when they're dealing with police if they have done something wrong either directly in relation to the crime that's being investigated or in another part of their life, they can be vulnerable. When an offer is made as a get out of jail free card, it can be fairly compelling."
Maney, who is currently serving out her sentence on parole, has applied to justice groups, like Innocence Project New Zealand and she hopes her case will be heard by the Criminal Cases Review Commission to be set up by the government mid-2019.
McKinnel said Maney needed to consider what she would do next but regardless, she was in a position that there needed to be fresh evidence or something relatively compelling to advance an appeal.
She could also apply for a Royal prerogative of mercy.
"It's not the end of the road for her, Gail does have options. She just needs to make some informed decisions about what she does next."
To find out more, you can subscribe to the full eight-part Gone Fishing series at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or any other podcast app. Or, you can go to the RNZ homepage and click on Podcasts.