A key witness in a murder trial, a jailhouse snitch who had more than $20,000 spent on his protection, gave false evidence under oath.
The witness also breached his witness protection contract with police, giving his personal contact details to someone from his previous life and revealing he had a new identity.
The revelations can only now be made after a jury was unable to return verdicts either way in the High Court in Palmerston North for Joseph William Johnson and Chea Paratene Charles Brattle-Hemara Haeana, who were charged with murdering Palmiro MacDonald in March 2016.
Justice Rebecca Ellis suppressed the snitch’s evidence until the end of the trial, despite Crown and defence lawyers happy for it to be published.
In her written decision, she said the media would be entitled to focus on the witness breaching their contract and telling untruthful evidence.
But she was concerned reporting would influence the jury, despite it being told to ignore news coverage on the case, she said.
“I am not prepared to proceed on the basis that all jurors have managed [or will continue to] comply.”
A key plank of the Crown case was four jailhouse witnesses, who Crown prosecutor Deborah Davies said would talk about Hemara and Johnson giving confessions about MacDonald’s death.
One, Scott Marshall, started giving evidence, but then said he would not answer any more questions and declined to take the oath.
Another, Leslie Ross, refused outright.
His refusal created obvious tension, with the judge uttering to the jury: “There’s going to be a judicial expletive.”
But it was the fourth who provided some of the most damning, but ultimately baseless, evidence.
The man, who continues to have name suppression, is a former gang member who grew up in Horowhenua and knows Johnson.
The pair would smoke drugs together, and during one session, Johnson confessed to killing MacDonald, the man said.
That evidence was countered in the same way as the third snitch, but it was another alleged confession that created problems.
The man said he and Johnson were in the shower yard in Manawatū Prison when Johnson told Marshall he killed “that nuk brain”, referring to MacDonald.
Johnson also said he tortured MacDonald, putting his dismembered body into a pillowcase and taking it to a dump spot in a Mazda he later burned due to the amount of blood, the man said.
But prison records furnished by Johnson’s lawyer Peter Brosnahan proved there was no way the prison confession was true, as the man and Johnson were not in the same part of the prison at that time.
That resulted in the judge giving the jury a specific direction about the evidence, telling them it was plainly wrong and should be ignored.
The man was placed into witness protection when he went to police offering evidence, with the court hearing about $23,000 was spent on his relocation and subsequent protection.
Being in witness protection involved signing a contract, which in the man’s case included an agreement to not be on social media, disclose his new location or give out his cellphone numbers.
The man broke those three clauses.
Facebook messages produced by Brosnahan showed the man messaged a woman from Horowhenua, saying he had a new name and lived somewhere else.
He gave out his number to that woman, inviting her to spend time with him.
He said he did not know he would be placed in witness protection.
“I thought I would go on a benefit out of prison without anyone’s help but my own, and make my way until I came to court.”
The informant admitted he had breached his contract, saying he was lonely and the woman deserved something good in her life.
But what can you do to stop snitches? Here’s a list of snitches with pictures and locations. Also read: Control of Information so you can stop snitching on yourself. Also: How to find out who’s a snitch and 10 Ways to Spot an Informant and How the cops are tracking you and No Warrant No Problem and Criminal defenses (How to beat your court case) And to inspire you: 7 Fugitives who Became Folk Heroes, How I Lost my friends