A man who admitted burning evidence in an incinerator to help his murder-accused brother in-law "got lucky" when his conviction was quashed today after a jury found there was legally no murder, says a law professor.
The Herald can now reveal details of the unusual case, which has been suppressed until now, after the Court of Appeal declared Ruarangi Waita McIntyre "cannot be an accessory to a murder that did not occur".
McIntyre's lawyer says the decision prevented a miscarriage of justice, but an expert in criminal law and member of the New Zealand Law Society Criminal Law Committee says "in reality [McIntyre] got lucky".
McIntyre, 29, pleaded guilty to the charge before his brother in-law Michael Tristan Ford, 25, went to trial in September for the murder of Ronald Clayton Karipa.
Karipa, 42, was killed last October in Auckland's Glendene after he and Ford pulled knives on each other at a bus stop on Hepburn Rd. Karipa was stabbed several times and died in hospital.
Ford argued that he had pulled out his knife in self-defence and stabbed Karipa, but did not intend to kill him.
On September 29 in the High Court at Auckland a jury found Ford not guilty.
He was also found not guilty of injuring with intent to injure.
A large knife was found by police at the scene of the stabbing in Glendene. Photo / Greg Bowker
However, a month earlier McIntyre's involvement in the case was described at his sentencing on August 29 in the High Court at Auckland.
After the stabbing, Ford went to McIntyre's home were the pair talked about what had happened, the court heard.
"You gave him a change of clothing," Justice Rebecca Edwards said.
"You took the clothes he was wearing, which would have had the victim's blood on them, and burned them in an incinerator at the back of your property. The clothing was completely destroyed."
Both men were later arrested, and when spoken to by police McIntyre said he had panicked and burned the clothing.
McIntyre, who has previous convictions, including for breach of conditions of intensive supervision, was sentenced by Justice Edwards to two years' intensive supervision, with special conditions to help him with his ongoing health issues.
Police examine the bus stop on Hepburn Rd after the stabbing. Photo / Greg Bowker
But after Ford was acquitted, McIntyre appealed his conviction.
Today the Court of Appeal's Justice Forrie Miller, Justice Brendan Brown and Justice Denis Clifford released their decision.
They said for a charge of accessory after the fact to another crime to be successfully prosecuted the Crown must prove the substantive crime was committed - although it is not necessary that a person be convicted of that crime.
"In the circumstances, the Crown conceded that the successful self-defence claim by the alleged primary offender has the consequence that there was no murder," the Court of Appeal judges ruled.
"Accordingly, Mr McIntyre cannot be an accessory to a murder that did not occur.
"That is where a miscarriage of justice arises because, on the admitted facts, [McIntyre] could not in law have been convicted of the offence charged. Consequently, notwithstanding the guilty plea, we allow Mr McIntyre's appeal against his conviction on the charge of accessory after the fact to murder."
The Court of Appeal did not order a retrial when quashing McIntyre's conviction.
An explanation of the law: Did appellant get lucky?
Professor Warren Brookbanks of the New Zealand Law Society Criminal Law Committee told the Herald that the facts of McIntyre's case were made the more interesting because of Ford's successful self-defence claim.
"Had the defence failed [Ford] would have been convicted of murder and McIntyre would have been guilty of being an accessory after the fact to murder," the AUT Law School professor said.
He added that cases such as McIntyre's do arise periodically in New Zealand's criminal courts.
McIntyre's lawyer Emma Priest said her client's conviction was properly overturned in what she described as a rare case, and any other result would have been a miscarriage of justice.
She said the Court of Appeal's decision reflected this view, which was held jointly by her and the Crown.
"While a conviction appeal on these grounds is not common, applications to vacate guilty pleas are filed more regularly in the lower courts," she said.
Brookbanks also explained that an accessory after the fact is not a party to an offence.
"It refers to someone who assists an offender after the offence has been committed. It is a separate type of substantive crime. So liability is not for the crime committed but arises as an independent offence," he said.
Four elements are required to prove liability in a case of being an accessory, he said.
"The first element is that the accused must have offered comfort or assistance to someone who committed an offence and must have known of the facts that would have made that person's act an offence. Here, because the defence of self-defence was successful and because self-defence is a 'justification' at law, that meant, in effect, that no offence was committed.
"Because accessory after the fact liability is dependent on the commission of an offence by the principal offender, in those circumstances there was no crime to which accessory liability could attach," he said.
"In reality the appellant got lucky because no crime was committed by the principal."
But Priest said: "It really is a matter of law, not luck."