Police and ESR have used DNA to solve some of New Zealand’s high profile cold cases. DNA has also been used to clear people of crimes for which they have been convicted. We summarise some of these cases below.
Jules Mikus case
Teresa Cormack (aged 6 years) was abducted, raped and murdered in 1987. Hair and semen were found on her body and stored. However, forensic testing at the time reaped no results. Scientific advances meant that in 2001, when the semen was retested (and the hair flown to the United States for retesting to confirm those results), a usable DNA profile of the offender was obtained. That profile matched a DNA profile (obtained as a blood sample) from Jules Mikus. Mr Mikus was convicted in 2002 of Teresa Cormack’s abduction, rape and murder.
Jarrod Mangels case
In 1987, Maureen McKinnel (aged 38 years) was murdered in Arrowtown. At the time, thousands of people were interviewed by Police, but no clear evidence pointed towards the murderer. Police took nail clippings from Ms McKinnel but early DNA profiling did not reveal the murderer either. In about 2003, following the successful use of DNA to find and convict Jules Mikus of Teresa Cormack’s murder, Ms McKinnel’s nail clippings were retested and two DNA profiles were obtained. One profile was identified as that of a legitimate male contact but the other was from an unknown male. Police started to review their original suspects (which included Jarrod Mangels) and sought funding to obtain DNA samples from their main suspects. That process was not necessary, however, as Mr Mangels gave a voluntary blood sample after being arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in 2003. His DNA profile was uploaded to the DNA Profile Databank and matched with the DNA profile obtained from Ms McKinnel’s nail clippings. Sixteen years after the crime was committed, Mr Mangels was arrested and charged. He pleaded guilty in 2004, in light of the DNA evidence.
Whetu Te Hiko case
In July 2006, Lois Dear (aged 66 years) was murdered in her Tokoroa classroom after she called the Police about someone stealing her car. Little forensic evidence was left at the scene: no blood or fingerprints, only a shoeprint and a single strand of the offender’s hair. Technological advances meant that a DNA profile could be obtained from the single strand of hair, something not possible ten years earlier. That DNA profile matched Whetu Te Hiko’s DNA profile, which was given voluntarily two years’ earlier and stored on the DNA Profile Databank. Investigation into the shoeprints supported that Mr Te Hiko was the murderer. He pleaded guilty to the murder in May 2007.
Teina Pora case
Teina Pora was convicted in 1994 of raping and murdering 39 year old Susan Burdett in her home two years earlier, after he confessed. However, after Mr Pora’s trial, DNA evidence obtained from the victim’s body was linked to another man, Malcom Rewa, who was convicted of raping Ms Burdett. Mr Pora’s convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal in 1999 on the basis that, had the jury known about the DNA match to Mr Rewa, they might not have convicted Mr Pora due to his confessions. However, Mr Pora was again found guilty when re-tried. In 2015, the Privy Council quashed Mr Pora’s conviction on the basis that reliance on Mr Pora’s confessions gave rise to a risk of a miscarriage of justice, viewed against the background that DNA evidence exculpated Mr Pora for the rape charge. As noted by the Privy Council, a large body of literature has developed documenting cases where confessions have been proved false, including by DNA evidence.
David Dougherty case
David Dougherty was convicted of kidnapping and raping an 11 year old girl in 1993, based on her eye witness evidence. DNA evidence was inconclusive at trial. However, later analysis of the DNA evidence identified another man’s semen on the girl’s underwear. In 1996, the Court of Appeal granted Mr Dougherty a retrial. By this stage a new technique in DNA testing had developed and analysis of the DNA sample showed that the DNA came from neither the complainant nor Mr Dougherty. He was acquitted in 1997 by the High Court. By 2002, further advances in DNA profiling excluded Mr Dougherty and identified another man as the attacker. In 2003, Mr Nicholas Reekie was convicted and found guilty of the crimes for which Mr Dougherty had been charged.
Aaron Farmer case
Aaron Farmer was convicted of raping a 22 year old woman in 2003, largely based on the victim’s identification of him. He successfully appealed (unrelated to DNA evidence) and in 2007 the Court of Appeal ordered a retrial. In preparing for that retrial, DNA evidence from the victim was retested using new scientific analysis techniques. The results excluded Mr Farmer. The Crown did not proceed with the retrial. In the original investigation, Police interview techniques misled Mr Farmer to believe that his DNA had been identified on the victim. The compensation payment to Mr Farmer in 2011 included an apology for misleading Mr Farmer in this way.