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August 17, 2009 | by  | in Features |
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One trip or two?

On New Years Eve 1997, Ben Smart (21) and Olivia Hope (17) disappeared from a Marlborough Sounds party. Scott Watson (26) was later convicted of their murders, and sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.

During the complex trial, one thing must have seemed straightforward to Watson and his lawyers: Watson was being accused of going from his boat, Blade, to an onshore party, back to Blade in a water taxi with Mr. Smart and Ms. Hope, and murdering them. Watson’s lawyers conducted their entire case on this basis—a single trip ashore and single trip back to Blade.

Then, at the very end of the trial, when it was too late for his lawyers to bring evidence against it, the Crown introduced a new, two-trip theory—that Watson went to the party, back to Blade, back ashore again, and back to Blade again, with the couple. Watson was convicted on this theory, against which his lawyers weren’t given a chance to defend him. This is a travesty of justice, and breaches fundamental human rights.

When asked what time he left the party and returned to Blade, Watson said, in a Police statement, “I think it was about 2 a.m.…I’m not exactly sure.” He’d been drinking and lost track of time. However, he couldn’t have returned to Blade at 2 a.m. unless he had gone back ashore again afterwards, because he’d been involved in an incident onshore between 2:45 and 3:30 a.m. Watson couldn’t have predicted the Crown would eventually use his hazy estimate to construct their two-trip theory. If he’d known his fate would hang on a wild guess, he might’ve emphasised he was drunk and therefore had no idea of time—like everyone else at the party.

At the latest possible point in the trial, towards the end of its closing address to the jury, the Crown claimed Watson returned to Blade at 2 a.m. as the sole passenger in a water taxi, and then went back ashore, where he was involved in the incident between 2:45 and 3:30 a.m. They said he then returned to Blade around 3:30 to 4 a.m., in a water taxi with the couple.

However, statements by the people onboard Mina Cornelia, which was moored up to Blade, destroy the two-trip theory, and absolutely support Watson returning alone to Blade once, but much later than 2 a.m.

The Mina Cornelia group returned from the party at 12:30 a.m. Their statements show that the last person to fall asleep on Mina Cornelia did so around 2:50 a.m. In that 12:30 to 2:50 a.m. window, no one on Mina Cornelia heard or saw Watson return to Blade. One occupant, Deborah Corless, went to bed at 2 a.m. Unable to sleep, she went back up on deck at 2:20 a.m., and back to bed at 2:45 a.m. During this time, she neither heard nor saw anyone return to Blade. In a Police statement, Corless said, “I was told Scott came back onto our boat but I did not hear him.” This ruins the two-trip theory: if Corless didn’t hear Watson return, she must’ve been asleep; therefore, Watson must have returned, once and only once, by himself, after 2:50 a.m.

Moreover, Watson couldn’t have murdered two people on Blade without anyone on Mina Cornelia hearing this. The two boats were just centimetres apart.

But the jury didn’t hear this evidence. Despite their potential to annihilate the two-trip theory, no one aboard Mina Cornelia was asked in court questions that needed to be asked, to test the theory Watson was convicted on.

Nor did the Crown explain how Watson allegedly got from Blade to the shore a second time. No one was asked if they’d seen Watson arriving ashore after 2 a.m., and if so, how he’d arrived there: was it in a water taxi, or a dinghy, or was he dripping wet, having swum from Blade? Regarding this key issue, Crown Prosecutor Paul Davison QC said in his closing address to the jury, “Does it matter?” In a situation as serious as a murder trial, one has to say, “Yes, it does.”

Watson’s appeal to the Court of Appeal in 2000 was rejected. The Court asserted, “There was extensive cross-examination on those issues [the two-trip theory].” This is factually untrue. There was no cross-examination about the two-trip theory because Watson’s defence didn’t know about it during the trial. The Court has validated a trial in which the accused and his lawyers didn’t know what he was being accused of until it was too late to defend him against the accusation.

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  1. H W Dare says:

    We may have a legal system in this country but we do not have a JUSTICE system.

  2. L Norman says:

    The “two trip theory” was one of many complex issues arising in Scott’s trial.
    Many aren’t fully aware of how trials work and think that the truth always comes out, and/or has the opportunity to come out, during a trial.

    This is not so; strategical methods are often employed to ensure the juries are NOT made aware of all the facts. You’ve done a good job of explaining this particular issue very clearly Gemma.

    And as you say, introducing the ‘two trip theory’ in a closing address where the defense has no opportunity to defend Scott, *is* grounds for a re-trial. Yet the 3 judges reviewing Scott’s appeal were too lazy and negligent to read the original trial transcripts properly and made totally false claims that the issue had been cross-examined. That’s tripe and so easily proven by going over the original trial transcripts. Most involved know this but no-one will do anything about it. Considering that you can only conclude there is corruption in our system.

  3. HW Dare says:

    I believe there is ample evidence of corruption. Old boys/girls club anyone . . .

  4. L Norman says:

    That’s exactly what it is HW. Too many people not willing to stick their neck out and stand up for what’s right. I had us Kiwi’s pegged as being made of sterner stuff and, for the most part, being willing to call a spade a spade.

    It’s disappointing and frustrating to see how fragile and self serving our authorities are.

  5. Gemma says:

    Thanks for your comments.

    Yes, there were MANY complex issues in this trial: the two-trip theory, of course, as well as the trial by media before the real trial, and the ridiculous body-dumping boat trip that defied the laws of time and physics.

    Juries can make a just decision only if they have the relevant information given to them. Many people say that unless you were on the jury, you have no right to comment on juries’ decisions about any case. What nonsense. It is the right of any citizen to take an active interest in how justice is administered in his or her country. To try to shut down public disquiet and questioning is absurd and dangerous, and conducive to the creation of a country in which more and more Watson debacles (and Dougherty, Ellis, Allan-Thomas, Haig, etc.) take place.

    Gemma

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