8 Jun 2022

Alan Hall's murder conviction quashed after 37 years

6:54 pm on 8 June 2022

After fighting to prove his innocence for 37 years, Alan Hall's murder conviction has been quashed.

A panel of judges at the Supreme Court made the decision after even the Crown admitted there had been a miscarriage of justice.

Hall spent a total of 19 years behind bars for the murder of Arthur Easton, a crime he always maintained he did not commit.

In the nearly four decades Hall and his family spent trying to clear his name, his mother sold the family home to fund his defense and died fighting to prove her son's innocence.

One of Hall's supporters is investigator Tim McKinnel, who said Hall wanted police involved held accountable and the true murderer of Arthur Easton found before turning his mind to compensation for the years of his life he's lost.

Hall has been in court today, along side his family and supporters.

His brother, Geoff, told reporters outside court that they got what they needed for the family but it was also a win for the nation.

"We fought against injustice and we won today. Our story is told so we're very proud of Alan."

Geoff said his brother has been inspirational in the way he has handled the pressure and the family was very happy.

Alan Hall's brothers Greg, Geoff and Robert speak outside the Supreme Court.

Geoff Hall and his brother, Robert (right), outside the Supreme Court, where they came to support their brother Alan Hall whose murder conviction was quashed. Photo: RNZ

Another of Alan Hall's brothers, Robert, said the community knew that Alan did not carry out the crime he was accused of.

"It's been a total miscarriage of justice," he said.

He thanked the members of the legal team.

Asked what was next for Alan, he said the family would sit down together and make some plans.

"At the moment we're just going to celebrate the quashing of the conviction - it's been 36 years."

However, the plans would include ways to integrate Alan back into society.

He said he became emotional after the Chief Justice said she was quashing the conviction on all three counts.

The three grounds for dismissal were official misconduct, police interviewing techniques, and flawed identification evidence.

Investigator calls for inquiry

McKinnel was a police detective before an off-duty incident prompted him to leave the force

Tim McKinnel Photo: RNZ / Luke McPake

Investigator Tim McKinnel who worked on the case told Checkpoint it was a day of celebration but also sadness for the tragic impact of the case on Alan Hall.

"What a complete waste of a large part of Alan's life - it's tragic."

While the legal system went well at times, it had gone "catastrophically wrong" for him, he said, adding that he also had sympathy for the Easton family with no-one else held to account for the killing of Arthur Easton.

There was "a culture of denial" around overturning wrongful convictions even though some of the evidence had been known about for 30 years, he said.

"Even on the most cynical view of the evidence, Alan was always innocent so it is a real indictment on the system it's taken this long."

In terms of managing the police case, who did what, when, and why still needed to be answered, McKinnel said.

"There are still many unanswered questions... I think there's a real question about whether those involved in those decisions and doing the things they did committed criminal acts in securing Alan's conviction and we look forward to some sort of inquiry to establish that one way or another."

He said a small group of people was involved in making some of the critical decisions and there was the wider question of the legal system failing Hall on several occasions.

The Cabinet guidelines made it clear that it was up to Alan and his family to apply for compensation.

"We'll look to move quite quickly when it comes to compensation."

How the case unfolded

Arthur Easton was fatally stabbed by a bayonet-wielding home intruder in 1985.

Hall was just 23 when he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Easton.

The Supreme Court in Wellington has heard from lawyers on both sides today.

Hall's lawyer Nick Chisnall told the court a starker example of a trial gone wrong would be hard to find.

He told the court witnesses, including Easton's teenage sons had initially described the offender as sturdy, stronger than them and Māori, whereas Hall is 1.7 metres in height, Pākehā and asthmatic.

However, Chisnall said this evidence became vague at trial.

Another witness, Ronald Turner, saw a man fleeing the crime scene and said the man was Māori.

Hall's lawyer and supporter investigator Tim McKinnel said the prosecution removed any reference to the person being Māori when the evidence was read to the jury at trial.

Hall's team say this was not disclosed to Hall's defence at the time meaning it was deprived of relevant information that was key to the case.

Chisnall recounted how police questioned Hall for long periods of time when he was first taken in by police. On one occasion, he was interrogated for 15 hours.

While Hall was not diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder until 2019, Chisnall said police would have recognised that he was vulnerable.

"The police knew in 1985 that he was a vulnerable suspect," he said.

The Crown has admitted there was a miscarriage of justice and accepts the conviction should be quashed.

Today, it also admitted statements police got from Hall would not be admissible in a trial in current times and would pass the test for being unreliable because of how they were obtained.

Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann said it was a trial gone wrong, and that there had been a substantial miscarriage of justice and he should be acquitted.

She said the Crown failed to disclose all evidence, which weakened the defence's case, including statements from witnesses about the ethnicity of a person seen, and evidence about which was the assailant's dominant hand.

The evidence from police interrogation should have been excluded, she said, because they went on for too long, without a lawyer, and at times without any recordkeeping.

Winkelmann said to conclude, it was clear that justice had seriously miscarried - either from extreme incompetence, or a deliberate strategy to achieve a conviction.