It’s hard to describe working at home to help a person you have never have met fight something you may come to believe is a wrongful conviction. There’s a risk in that, being wrong, exposed by lack of detachment and so on. But there is also another side, the genuine feeling of helping someone in a terrible situation. That work may begin with little more than a concern about a conviction – one that raises questions or doesn’t make to sense for a reason you may not at first be able to put your finger on.
What I’ve noticed from that in my experiences is that those men or women wrongfully convicted, despite what they’ve been through, or are going through, are often the kind of people that would give others a hand even if they weren’t like that before they were wrongfully convicted. There must be something about getting knocked down by a wrongful conviction that delivers a finer appreciation of looking out for others – well so it seems.
Friday I took an overnight trip to the centre of the North Island. I spent the night in the family home of 1 of Mark Lundy’s childhood friends in a part of New Zealand where some folks don’t lock the doors and strangers say hello in the streets. I got a glimpse at the reason why some of Mark’s friendships have held together, not just by one of his friends but by 2 of them and their families. Smart industrious people whose children are doing extraordinarily well as I feel certain would have been the case for Mark if 2 unknown men had not broken into his home and left their DNA and hair there along with a deep mystery which police have only scrapped the surface of.
A reader does not have to agree with me on that last sentence, but it is the reason rightly or wrongly I spent 100s of hours on the Lundy case followed by 1000s more once I believed he is innocent.
On Saturday morning like clockwork the 2nd friend arrived and I was a little late and delayed them on their 6.25am leaving time. I had gone deep into the night in the engine room of the Lundy supporters group – all paperwork was at hand with explanations and details. So was a strong debate on what the job was. One I’ve had before where I reject nailing the prime suspect using the DNA found at the scene. Finally a truce was made – Get Mark out of prison first. The debate would come up a few more times in the next 8 to 10 hours but more as something familiar, a little humorous but settled for now as to what I was doing.
At one point my host having said the previous evening they do not talk much about the case to Mark in order not to upset him said that I could ask him any questions I wanted at the visit. Not that I did really have any questions, I already knew a lot about the case particularly the improbability of forensic science said to hold the case together. I was curious about meeting Mark however, find out something about him other than what I read or seen in the news.
Marks 2nd friend drove. For at least the 1st hour nothing was mentioned about the case, for various reasons not excluding the desire not to excite another round on completing the investigation. I’ll give the 2 men factiousness names, the 1st Robert the 2nd Bill. They will probably read this so I must be accurate – Robert was determined, absolutely. Bill was a person for whom logic reined. They were old mates that poked fun at each other, not deterred by a relative stranger sitting in the car, trying to get a handle on them, how they thought and so on – no doubt just as they were doing with me. It was all safe talk in the beginning, about business, insurance and other such things until I brought up something about the case as I was switching my mind to realising if I did have any questions for Mark I had less than a hour to think about them.
It was then that I appreciated that Bill would not go down a rabbit hole as Robert might easily do on issues with the case – before climbing and shaking the dirt off. So they were a strong mix – ideas and logic at work, the good opposites that make progress. We arrived on time to the controlled entrance and carpark area before going through a higher security screen than I expected at minimum security before going through to meet Mark.
In person he is a big man who moves well. He doesn’t in anyway match the impressions given through the media. He is direct and engaging, a good speaker which made sense the strong support he had from his customers about his cheerfulness. At 60 he looked more than capable of doing a day’s work. He’s intelligent and insightful. Not that there was any reason to do so, but he clearly was not trying to make some impression on me – what you saw was what you got and he along with his 2 friends of over 50 years were soon jostling over the jokes they made about one another. That followed an exchange of hugs and in my case a warm shake of the hand.
I got to hear a lot about Mark’s short term plans toward parole, very well- reasoned. He would later say when discussing some men that we both knew that it was his impression that a lot of men that go to prison get in someway time locked as who they are by the age of when they were imprisoned. Although it wasn’t perhaps intended to be, I found it very insightful. I could see that Mark holds his own place in the prison, isn’t a pushover, but has his own mind – one that is focused on freedom. He did not once complain about his situation, not even a hint about what I imagine he must feel being in prison for nearly 20 years on junk science, so poor that it doesn’t even deserve the maligned label of junk science but something even worse.
After my debate with Robert over the possible outcome of Mark’s Supreme Court appeal I asked Mark what he thought. To my surprise he wasn’t either optimistic or bitter about it. He like Robert considered the Courts as mindful not to over rule lower Courts. This set off a big debate with Robert clearly enjoying the moment with an ally this time - Mark.
When that finished I asked what the plan was should the appeal fail. Mark quoted Jonathan Eaton, not regarding anything cynical about a prediction of the SC decision, but as to next steps if there was to be no retrial. I was happy with that. It showed a couple of things, most importantly that JE was in for the long-haul despite that I personally believe he is confident of a win at the SC, as I am. Secondly, because Christopher John Halkides and I are down the track on material to be used at a retrial or in the event of not winning at the SC. Mark has read a lot of that, and took some delight in speaking about the number of American exonerations that matched similar circumstances to his own case. In other words, I felt, he knew he was going to win if not in the short term – then later.
He went onto speak about how he is usually positive about any of the proceedings and how one of his family members is not, but at this point the family member is positive while he is not. I didn’t say so but I liked that.
At some point the conversation turned to prisoners with low iqs and how they fare in the criminal Justice system. Eventually in general conversation Mark revealed some of his experiences with men who had the iqs of 9 or 11 year olds and how he would write letters for them or guide them into work, understanding that the mentally challenged are more at ease with some sort of job to do. It will be a surprise that even in prisons, and even prisoners with a somewhat challenging public image can be functioning with kindness toward others left behind in the intellectual development.
I was surprised by this, but perhaps shouldn’t have been because some years ago I saw a video of Mark’s late father who made toys for children and stuck with his son. I’m always on about being objective and not subjective – but that video gave me a nudge about who Mark was, just as did a letter sometime back from Scott Watson who mentioned amongst other things making toys for kids and Christmas.
Scott and Mark know one another, I doubted that would ever be firm friends because their lives had been so different. At around 40 Mark was a businessman, already a carpenter, a father and husband who owned his own home. Scott on the other hand had just build a boat, was something of a rolling stone, had women in his life and was seriously considering sailing around the world. Neither man was to know that beast called injustice was about to lock onto them, neither could have been ready – but if Mark’s theory he volunteered by accident they were 15 years apart in life experience, one a few years into adulthood the other beginning middle-age when a man trap was set upon them. They may be more alike that they realise, in time if good overcomes bad, just the same - exonerated wrongly convicted men.a