Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Rant: David Bain: A life (needlessly) lost

Unlike the rest of New Zealand, and maybe because I am not there, I don't believe I know for sure that David Bain did or did not murder some or all of his family on June 22 1994. I have heard all sorts of theories, from "he did the lot, and might just off Joe Karam while he's at it" through "his Dad shot the family, but he shot his Dad" right up to "he is inncoent and his Dad did it" and the conspiracy theory "they burned the house down, and someone important did it and wants this to go away". I'm pretty certain the guy is innocent (in no small part because you would have to be one scary, talented individual to protest your innocence for 13 years if you did it), but only he (and depending on what you believe, his dead family and God, oh, and maybe the conspiracy theorist's murderer and police) really know.

The justice of the matter is, though (since the truth, for once, is irrelevant) it that it really, truly does not matter whether he did it or not. There is no way that based on the evidence he should have been convicted of all five murders (or even one of them), and thus he has spent nearly thirteen years in jail unjustifiably (well, maybe fewer than thirteen, but at least since the first appellate court rejected his appeal). I, like the privy council, do not blame the judge or the jury at the trial, they had a shit of a job, and I am sure under the circumstances they did the best they could. The same cannot be said for the police, I don't think, and it certainly cannot be said for the court of appeals, who appear to have taken the path of least resistance at every possible opportunity. Woe for NZ that we no longer have any international courts above our own internecine, incestuous little judicial affairs.

Now there is all the scrap about whether he should be re-tried (the privy council said yes, but that it was up to the local courts to decide what would be in the best interests of the public), or indeed whether he can have a fair trial (a decision on this is expected to be made later this month). There is also the question of compensation, for which apparently present laws state he would have to prove his innocence.

In all the hue and cry, however, we seem to have forgotten that it is not just David's family who wrongfully had their lives cut short, it is David as well. This is a man who spent 13 years, from his early 20s to his mid 30s, in jail (not known for it's pleasant environment) in jail for a crime he should never have been convicted of. He's never held a job, owned a cellphone, had a long term relationship, had the chance to have a family, surfed the web because he felt like it, had the chance to vote on a reality TV show--the list goes on. He has been locked up not just through his own early adulthood, but also through a time of great change in the world. While he was in jail, he went from an adolescent looking young man, to a man who is suddenly middle aged.

Young David Bain

David Bain in 2007

To be fair to David, he learned a marketable trade in jail, and seems to remarkably well adjusted. He has job offers (which is a good thing, given he hasn't a cent to his name, being wrongfully convicted of this has even taken his inheritance), and he is learning to cook. He has a supporter in Joe Karam, and many others as well.

Just because he is taking it well, though, does not excuse us from knowing our criminal justice system has made him into a not-guilty 34 year old man who feels "It is nice to have different drinks and hamburgers and things to choose from". Our justice system, with no right, not only took this man's life, but kept it long after the court of appeals had seen evidence that should have released him.

Should he be retried? Probably not. Should he be compensated? Absolutely. Even if he did do it, he should not have been in jail for a good chunk of the time he has. The government, the justice system, and we as electors and jurors owe him more than we can ever repay for those years. What is the most scary thing about this case? That it is likely not the only one, and jail does Bad Things to people, often. Something is very wrong, here, and I don;t know how to fix it.

David, you have my apologies for not finding out how to support you. You have my apologies that our justice system was prepared to leave you in jail to cover it's own ass. Most of all, though, you have my apologies that you needlessly lost not just your family, but your own life.

Update, 21 June 2007: Apparently the NZ judicial system has not had a big enough piece of David Bain yet. The decision to retry him was reached today, and so we are going to waste yet more of his life (though how they are going to get a jury that will even consider convicting, I would love to know).

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