Cracker by Damian Christie


Lundy and Me.

Some years ago, probably close to a decade now, I was working as a producer on Sunday. Somehow, a story ended up on my desk – the story that Mark Lundy was innocent.

The evidence was compelling. Almost nothing in the Crown case added up, especially as presented by Mark Lundy’s answer to Joe Karam – although perhaps that’s an unfair comparison to make about the quietly personable Geoff Levick – who's spent far too many hours delving through the minutiae of what did or didn’t happen that night in Palmerston North.

There is so much that doesn’t make sense about the police case, it’s actually scary it was not only put forward, but found compelling enough by a jury to find Mark Lundy guilty. For several weeks, months even, I read everything I could about every questionable aspect of the Lundy case, tracking down some of the most qualified experts I could find in New Zealand and overseas, engaging their services to re-examine scientific evidence, while applying my own mind to the non-specialist areas of dispute.

The drive to Palmerston North and back, for instance. The police could never replicate it in the time Lundy was supposed to have made, let alone leaving Petone at rush-hour. And why you’d be trying to break a land-speed record on your way back from committing a homicide defies even basic logic.

At the Lundy house, there’s odd things happening too. Both Christine and daughter Amber are apparently in bed asleep at 7pm, even though that’s never remotely the case for Christine, and the light’s on outside, and the computer doesn’t appear to be shut down until much later. The only conclusion the police can offer is that Lundy had tampered with the computer.

There’s an eyewitness though. It’s dark, but she sees a man who she identifies as Lundy, dressed in a blonde wig, running down the road where he’s obviously stashed his car. Ever better luck, she’s a psychic, and uses her powers to draw a picture of the murder weapon. Case closed.

You can go through the elements of the case one by one, and pull them to bits. We did. The story was looking good. We used the OIA to get full disclosure from ESR and other agencies including police notes and so forth, provided it all to our experts, and waited.

Problem was, every person we furnished with the information, every scientific opinion we sought, from a forensic pathologist to an expert in immunohistochemistry said they agreed with the findings presented by the prosecution. (We didn’t ask about the stomach contents evidence, and I agree it seems pretty weak).

I’m sure there are experts who’ll disagree. My point is, we didn’t find them, and with no real way forward the momentum petered out. We could’ve done a story on those proclaiming Lundy’s innocence – as Mike White did (and a very good job he did too) for North & South, but all the experts we had on tape said otherwise. I didn’t feel comfortable telling one side of the story and ignoring the others we’d interviewed, and “Mark Lundy may or may not be guilty, although our experts say he is, which is probably why he’s in jail” wasn’t the strong lead my boss was looking for.

I also wasn’t 100% convinced by Geoff Levick. He was a smart, genuine guy, but it seemed to me he’d spent so long looking for inconsistencies with every aspect of the case - we had a great conversation about paint flecks from a variety of tools -  that he’d started to see patterns where there was none. I can’t recall the precise details, but this is close enough to illustrate what I mean: Someone had anonymously posted in a newspaper clipping. There was a number written on the clipping, which corresponded closely to a license plate of a car which was registered to an address, just down the road (but completely unrelated) from the address of a business that had a connection to another possible suspect. To Geoff, that was something. He couldn't say what, but something.

Every journalist has probably experienced that moment – the moment when you realise the person you’re talking to isn’t quite making any sense at all, but you smile and nod, and try and turn the conversation back to more solid ground. And in Geoff’s case, most of what he said made perfect sense – the real shame for Mark Lundy was Geoff Levick wasn’t there for his first defence

Not long after I let the story go – I moved on to another show – I was out with a camera operator who’d been there at the funeral, who’d filmed Mark Lundy and claimed there were no tears behind those hysterical sobs. He’d sat through much of the trial, and had clearly spent a bit of time mulling over the same issues I’d been dealing with. He said one sentence to me that saw everything click into place.  “I reckon he just did it later.”

If it wasn’t for Margaret Dance, the psychic witness, maybe the police wouldn’t have had enough to convict Mark Lundy. But they wouldn’t have needed to construct the questionable timeline and evidence that came after – the stomach contents, the miraculous trip, the early bed-time, the lights on, the computer hacking and so forth. Mark Lundy might have slept with the prostitute – establishing something of an alibi – then driven in the wee small hours at a cautious pace to Palmerston North, where his wife and child had gone to bed at their normal time, after having shut the computer down and turned the lights off, as you do. They would have been fast asleep when they were killed in their beds, and Lundy, on those facts, could have been back by sunrise.

I’m not surprised at the decision by the Privy Council. Whatever happened that night, I’m just not convinced Mark Lundy did it the way the prosecution would have us believe. But not guilty is not innocent, and at the moment he’s neither – he’s accused of murder and awaiting retrial. But so was Bain when he and Karam emerged from court to a hero’s welcome from the waiting media. Here’s a few of my favourite questions [I transcribed them here at the time] courtesy of our supposed top broadcasters on that heartwarming occasion:

“No jersey David?

Are you guys going to live together?

Which one’s the tidy one?

Who’s going to do the cooking?

You don’t like prison food?"

Stunning. Let the circus begin.

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