So, to carry on from Part 1 a few days ago, I better conclude my story about my close encounter with the justice system in the 1980s. We, the jury, had done our job and been grateful for the defence summing up that made it so easy. We’d declared him guilty on the major charge and not guilty on the lesser one, and gone home. To reflect on the week in court and get back to work and get on with our lives. End of story – I thought.
Next morning I read all about it on the front page of the Otago Daily Times. How Peter Holdem was a repeat sex offender against young girls. How he’d been found guilty of an abduction about 5 years before. How he wasn’t long released from prison when he committed the crimes we’d been jury on. As a juror I wondered what the previous few days had been about. We saw a nicely dressed decent-looking man on trial and were expected to assess him by how he looked – I don’t recall him giving evidence. The evidence on the sex charge was not much. A jury gets to decide on a person’s guilt and is given clear guidance on what to include and exclude. Yet somehow we are not trusted to know that this nice looking man is just out of prison on a serious sex offence. That he is a repeat sex offender – of a type similar to the crime we were considering his guilt for.
Talk about the elephant in the room! The judge knew his history. So did the prosecution. His lawyer. The Police. Probably the news reporters. Perhaps everyone in the court room, except us – the ones given the duty of deciding whether he was likely to have committed the crime he was charged with. I know the idea is innocent until proven guilty. And each trial is supposed to be without prejudice based on previous crimes. But at some point recent, repeat, related crimes must have some relevance. The lucky thing was that the evidence on the sex charge was so useless. But I wondered about if it had been a close thing. If we had agonised for hours and days over the verdict. Then I’d have been really annoyed to have been denied knowledge of relevant crimes and patterns of behaviour.
The irony was that the trial was shifted to Dunedin out of concern that he mightn’t get a fair trial in Christchurch. The thing was, did he get a fair trial in Dunedin? Maybe not. The other thing is, did he deserve a fair trial? Maybe not. Did I think “justice” was served? Maybe not. A couple of decades on do I now think “justice”was served? Maybe. It seems that justice might just depend on your point of view