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Capital punishment in New Zealand

Capital punishment in New Zealand

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Capital punishment in New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

first appeared in a codified form when New Zealand became a British territory in 1840, and was first employed in 1842. It was last used in 1957, abolished for murder in 1961, and abolished altogether, including for treason, in 1989. During the period that it was in effect, 85 people were executed.

Method


The method of execution was by hanging
Hanging
Hanging is the lethal suspension of a person by a ligature. The Oxford English Dictionary states that hanging in this sense is "specifically to put to death by suspension by the neck", though it formerly also referred to crucifixion and death by impalement in which the body would remain...

. At first, there were many possible execution sites all around the country, but later, the only two cities where hangings were carried out were Wellington
Wellington
Wellington is the capital city and third most populous urban area of New Zealand, although it is likely to have surpassed Christchurch due to the exodus following the Canterbury Earthquake. It is at the southwestern tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Rimutaka Range...

 (the capital) and Auckland
Auckland
The Auckland metropolitan area , in the North Island of New Zealand, is the largest and most populous urban area in the country with residents, percent of the country's population. Auckland also has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world...

 (now the largest city). Initially, there was no professional hangman employed—the executioner was simply chosen from among any who were deemed qualified. On occasion, convicted criminals were employed as hangmen, often in exchange for reduced sentences or monetary reward. In 1877, the sheriff of Blenheim
Blenheim, New Zealand
Blenheim is the most populous town in the region of Marlborough, in the north east of the South Island of New Zealand, and the seat of the regional council. It has a population of The area which surrounds the town is well known as a centre of New Zealand's wine industry...

 recommended that a professional executioner be hired. Tom Long
Tom Long (hangman)
Tom Long was the New Zealand government hangman in the late 19th-early 20th century, although it was not a full time position. He executed the "baby farm" murderer Minnie Dean, the only woman hanged in New Zealand....

, an Irishman
Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

 who claimed to have been an executioner in Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, was hired as the first official hangman. He was the only official hangman to be publicly known; others remained anonymous.

History


The first person to be sentenced to death was a Māori youth named Maketu, who was found guilty of murdering a white shepherd. However, he died of dysentery
Dysentery
Dysentery is an inflammatory disorder of the intestine, especially of the colon, that results in severe diarrhea containing mucus and/or blood in the faeces with fever and abdominal pain. If left untreated, dysentery can be fatal.There are differences between dysentery and normal bloody diarrhoea...

 before the sentence could be carried out. The first person to be executed was Wiremu Kingi Maketu, who was found guilty of murdering five people on Motuarohia Island, in the Bay of Islands
Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is an area in the Northland Region of the North Island of New Zealand. Located 60 km north-west of Whangarei, it is close to the northern tip of the country....

. The people killed were Thomas Bull, employed by Elisabeth Roberton, who was also murdered along with her son aged eight, her daughter of two, and a girl of nearly three named Isabella Brind, the natural daughter of one Captain Brind by a Maori woman, the daughter of Rewa, chief of Ngapuhi in that area. Mrs Roberton's husband, Captain John Roberton, had drowned prior in Paroa Bay, just opposite the island. Thomas Bull had a reputation for strength and brutality. He seemed at all times to have made a set at Maketu and had on several occasions struck, thrown, or otherwise maltreated him. Maketu, was unable to defend himself against such an opponent; nor indeed did it conform with his notions of dignity to do so, he being by virtue of his chiefly rank above combat with one who was a servant and whom he therefore regarded on the same plane as a slave. Maketu, therefore, bided his time for revenge. Maketu then killed Thomas Bull in the night with an axe; he then brutally murdered Mrs Roberton, who was shouting abuse at him and then went to murder the two girls (ransacking the house and then burning Mrs Roberton and the two children within it). The boy ran up Pa Hill, where Maketu chased him and threw him off the 200 ft cliff. He was sentenced to death by an all-white jury (his defence had wanted a half-white, half-Māori jury) in an Auckland
Auckland
The Auckland metropolitan area , in the North Island of New Zealand, is the largest and most populous urban area in the country with residents, percent of the country's population. Auckland also has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world...

 court, and executed in March 1842.

All the people executed were men, except Minnie Dean
Minnie Dean
Williamina "Minnie" Dean was a New Zealander who was found guilty of infanticide and hanged. She was the only woman to receive the death penalty in New Zealand....

, found guilty of infanticide
Infanticide
Infanticide or infant homicide is the killing of a human infant. Neonaticide, a killing within 24 hours of a baby's birth, is most commonly done by the mother.In many past societies, certain forms of infanticide were considered permissible...

 in 1895, and all were convicted of murder, except for Hamiora Pere
Hamiora Pere
Hamiora Pere was the only New Zealander ever to be executed for treason.- Background :Pere was a participant in the Te Kooti's War, one of the New Zealand land wars. When Te Kooti's forces were defeated at the siege of Ngatapa, in 1869, around 270 people were taken prisoner. Most were executed,...

, convicted of treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

. The last person to be executed was Walter James Bolton
Walter James Bolton
Walter James Bolton was a New Zealand farmer who was found guilty of poisoning his wife. He is known as the last person to be executed in New Zealand before the abolition of capital punishment....

, for poisoning his wife, on February 18, 1957.

Abolition: 1949-1961


When the Labour Party
New Zealand Labour Party
The New Zealand Labour Party is a New Zealand political party. It describes itself as centre-left and socially progressive and has been one of the two primary parties of New Zealand politics since 1935....

 formed its first government following the 1935 general election
New Zealand general election, 1935
The 1935 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the New Zealand Parliament's 25th term. It resulted in the Labour Party's first electoral victory, with Michael Joseph Savage becoming the first Labour Prime Minister...

, it commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment
Life imprisonment
Life imprisonment is a sentence of imprisonment for a serious crime under which the convicted person is to remain in jail for the rest of his or her life...

. In 1941, the Crimes Amendment Act changed the penalty for murder from death to life imprisonment with hard labour
Hard Labor
Hard Labor is the eleventh album by American rock band Three Dog Night, released in 1974 .- Cover Artwork :The original album cover, depicting of the birth of a record album , was deemed too controversial and was soon reworked with a huge bandage covering the "birth". The cover also includes an...

. The only crimes for which the death penalty still applied were treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 and piracy
Piracy
Piracy is an act of robbery or criminal violence at sea. The term can include acts committed on land, in the air, or in other major bodies of water or on a shore. It does not normally include crimes committed against persons traveling on the same vessel as the perpetrator...

.

The Labour Party lost power to the more conservative National Party
New Zealand National Party
The New Zealand National Party is the largest party in the New Zealand House of Representatives and in November 2008 formed a minority government with support from three minor parties.-Policies:...

, which had pledged to reintroduce capital punishment, in 1949. During that earlier period, support and opposition for capital punishment were clearly delineated on partisan grounds. The National Party supported the restoration and maintenance of the death penalty, while the Labour Party opposed it During debate over the Capital Punishment Act 1950, Labour expressed concern about the constitutional implications of the concentration of executive power in this context, while National Party Attorney-General Clifton Webb referred to the alleged "deterrent" value of the death penalty as potential threat and punitive severity However, Webb was relatively sparing in his use of the death penalty, while his successor, Attorney-General Jack Marshall (1955–1958) was a hardliner on that issue and the number and pace of executions accelerated, arousing debate.

During the time that the National Party was in office (1949–1958), 36 people were convicted of murder, and 22 of those were sentenced to death. The final decision on executions rested with Cabinet
New Zealand Cabinet
The Cabinet of New Zealand functions as the policy and decision-making body of the executive branch within the New Zealand government system...

, and only eight of the condemned were executed. The rest were commuted to life imprisonment. Even then, professional opinion was divided. Film censor Gordon Mirams did not regard spectacles of hanging as appropriate content within crime dramas and western films and excised such content and dialogue on the basis of family propriety

According to Department of Justice historian Pauline Engel, the British Royal Commission on Capital Punishment (1953) may have heavily influenced the rise of abolitionism, as did the controversies that surrounded the executions of Harry Whiteland and Edward Te Whiu, which raised questions about post-war trauma, intellectual and developmental disability as factors for leniency.

Social historian Redmer Yska has argued that such concern arose much earlier. When the National Party restored capital punishment in 1950, it became an administrative ordeal for civil servants involved, particularly those within correctional facilties like Mount Eden Prison in Auckland, law enforcement and the judiciary Corrections staff needed to maintain suicide watch for the convicted felon, conduct regular health checks and provide pastoral care for the condemned individual's relatives, as well as insure prison security during executions

Official requirements mandated the presence of a magistrate, doctor and sheriffs During the late fifties, Attorney-General Jack Marshall accelerated the pace of executions and post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and duodenal haemorrhaging developed amongst two of the three staff obliged to participate during execution procedures In cases of political import, prudent reprieves and commuted penalties did occur, as happened when three Nuie Islanders were sentenced to death after killing a manifestly brutal and oppressive Resident Commissioner. On that occasion, the Public Questions Committee of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand became involved in strenuously lobbying against the verdict

Class differences were also seen to affect the verdict. Dr. Senga Wintringham was convicted of manslaughter, rather than murder, in February 1955, after shooting and killing Dr Bill Saunders. Wintringham claimed that she had only meant to intimidate him, rather than kill him. The Peoples Voice, newspaper of the Communist Party of New Zealand, criticised the perceived "double standard" in this context, as the courts had just convicted and sentenced nineteen year old British migrant and itinerant labourer Frederick Foster to death, despite questions about mental illness and intellectual impairment in his context, as well as appeals from his mother. Foster had shot and killed Sharon Skeffington, his former girlfriend. Although Foster was sentenced to death and executed, Defence counsel Dr Martyn Finlay succeeded in raising questions about the limited intellectual capabilities and mental health of the condemned person in this context Similar questions would arise in the trial, conviction and execution of Albert Webb. The New Zealand Listener editorialised against the death penalty in July 1955, and received supportive feeback from its letters page correspondents

Eddie Te Whiu was hanged in August 1955, after he had killed an elderly widow in Whangerai when an attempted burglary went wrong. Abolitionist sentiment grew again, as, with the Foster and Black cases, there was perceptible anxiety about the failure of "deterrence" value in the context of violent homicides, and whether Te Whiu should have been convicted of manslaughter instead, due to his dysfunctional family origins and limited intellectual capabilities As a result, a National Committee for Abolition of the Death Penalty was formed in November 1956, with branches in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Engel and Maureen Garing have drawn attention to the involvement of Protestant Christian opposition to capital punishment. In 1941 and 1951, the Christian Social Justice League, Christchurch Anglican Diocesan Synod and Methodist Public Questions Committee supported abolition, as did individual Catholics, although their hierarchy remained neutral in this debate. The New Zealand Theosophical Society also opposed capital punishment, and the Churches of Christ and Baptist Union declared its opposition in the late fifties. As religious opposition grew, it provided opponents of capital punishment with an organisational base that was used to good effect. Redmer Yska notes that clergy often refused to participate in legitimising executions through their presence, of whatever denomination

As a consequence of controversy over the perceived escalation in use of capital punishment, abolitionist petitions started to circulate as well. In 1956, a proposal for a referendum on capital punishment was put forward by the Minister of Justice
Minister of Justice (New Zealand)
The Minister of Justice is a minister in the government of New Zealand. The minister has responsibility for the formulation of justice policy and for the administration of law courts....

, Jack Marshall
Jack Marshall
Sir John Ross Marshall, GBE, CH, , generally known as Jack Marshall, was a New Zealand politician. After spending twelve years as Deputy Prime Minister, he served as the 28th Prime Minister for most of 1972....

. This referendum was to be voted on during the 1957 general election
New Zealand general election, 1957
The 1957 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the New Zealand Parliament's 32nd term. It saw the governing National Party narrowly defeated by the Labour Party...

, but the proposal was defeated.

Meanwhile, Walter James Bolton
Walter James Bolton
Walter James Bolton was a New Zealand farmer who was found guilty of poisoning his wife. He is known as the last person to be executed in New Zealand before the abolition of capital punishment....

 (1888–1957) was executed at Mount Eden Prison in Auckland
Auckland
The Auckland metropolitan area , in the North Island of New Zealand, is the largest and most populous urban area in the country with residents, percent of the country's population. Auckland also has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world...

 in February 1957, after he had allegedly poisoned his wife with arsenic. Given that the National Party lost that election, there were to be no further executions within New Zealand. However, while the election saw a short-lived Labour government elected, capital punishment was not debated in Parliament again before the National party regained power after the 1960 election
New Zealand general election, 1960
The 1960 New Zealand general election was a nationwide vote to determine the shape of the New Zealand Parliament's 33rd term. It saw the governing Labour Party defeated by the National Party, putting an end to the short second Labour government.-Background:...

.

In 1961, the National Party reaffirmed its support for the death penalty, although restricted its use to premeditated murders, and those committed during another crime or during an escape from custody. The issue of capital punishment generated intensive debate within the National Party—the Minister of Justice in the Second National Government
Second National Government of New Zealand
The Second National Government of New Zealand was the government of New Zealand from 1960 to 1972. It was a conservative government which sought mainly to preserve the economic prosperity and general stability of the early 1960s...

, who was responsible for introducing the Crimes Bill 1961, Ralph Hanan
Ralph Hanan
Josiah Ralph Hanan known as Ralph Hanan was a New Zealand politician of the National Party.He represented the Invercargill electorate in Parliament from 1946 to 1969, and was a son of Josiah Hanan who had previously held the seat...

, strongly opposed the death penalty, while Jack Marshall, the Deputy Prime Minister
Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
The Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand is second most senior officer in the Government of New Zealand, although this seniority does not necessarily translate into power....

, had condoned its use while serving as Minister of Justice and Attorney General, as noted above.

Abolition and Its Aftermath: 1961-


Aware of growing public opposition to capital punishment, the National Party allowed its MPs to exercise a conscience vote
Conscience vote
A conscience vote or free vote is a type of vote in a legislative body where legislators are allowed to vote according to their own personal conscience rather than according to an official line set down by their political party....

 in Parliament, and ten National MPs crossed the floor
Crossing the floor
In politics, crossing the floor has two meanings referring to a change of allegiance in a Westminster system parliament.The term originates from the British House of Commons, which is configured with the Government and Opposition facing each other on rows of benches...

 to vote with the Labour Party. The result was a majority of 11 against capital punishment, 41-30. The ten National MPs were Rev. Ernest Aderman
Ernest Aderman
Rev. Ernest Philip Aderman, OBE was a New Zealand politician of the National Party.He represented the New Plymouth electorate from 1943 until he retired in 1966....

, Gordon Grieve
Gordon Grieve
Gordon Glendinning Grieve was a New Zealand politician of the National Party.He represented the Awarua electorate from 1957 to 1969, when he retired...

, Ralph Hanan
Ralph Hanan
Josiah Ralph Hanan known as Ralph Hanan was a New Zealand politician of the National Party.He represented the Invercargill electorate in Parliament from 1946 to 1969, and was a son of Josiah Hanan who had previously held the seat...

, Duncan MacIntyre
Duncan MacIntyre (New Zealand)
Brigadier-General Duncan MacIntyre, CMG, DSO, OBE, ED, PC was a New Zealand politician of the National Party. He served as Deputy Prime Minister from 1981 to 1984 under Prime Minister Robert Muldoon.-Member of Parliament:...

, Robert Muldoon
Robert Muldoon
Sir Robert David "Rob" Muldoon, GCMG, CH served as the 31st Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1975 to 1984, as leader of the governing National Party. Muldoon had been a prominent member of the National party and MP for the Tamaki electorate for some years prior to becoming leader of the party...

, Herbert Pickering
Herbert Pickering
Herbert Elmer Lorraine "Lorrie" Pickering, QSO was a New Zealand politician of the National Party, and was a cabinet minister.He was Minister of Education in the Second National Government in 1972....

, Logan Sloane
Logan Sloane
Logan Francis Sloane was a New Zealand politician of the National Party.He represented the seat of Hobson in Northland from 1960 to 1966, and from 1969 to 1975, when he retired....

, Brian Talboys
Brian Talboys
Sir Brian Edward Talboys, CH, KCB, AC, is a former New Zealand politician. He served as Deputy Prime Minister for the first two terms of Robert Muldoon's premiership. If the abortive "Colonels' Coup" against Muldoon had been successful, Talboys would have become Prime Minister himself.-Early...

, Mrs Esme Tombleson
Esme Tombleson
Esme Irene Tombleson, CBE, QSO was a New Zealand politician of the National Party.-Early life:She was born and educated in Sydney in 1917, and was involved in various ballet, opera and theatre companies. During World War II she served in the Women's Auxiliary Signalling Corps in Sydney...

 and Herbert John Walker
Herbert John Walker
Herbert John Walker, CMG was a New Zealand politician of the National Party.He represented the Christchurch electorates of St Albans in Parliament from 1960 to 1969, and then Papanui from 1969 to 1978, when he was defeated by Mike Moore.In 1961 he was one of ten National MPs to vote with the...

. The death penalty was therefore abolished for murder, being retained only for treason and other similar acts in theory. In principle, this meant that de facto abolition had occurred from that point onward

These last theoretical vestiges of capital punishment were abolished under a Labour government in 1989 without any further executions during the interim period Occasional populist calls still occur for its restoration, but no major political party has made capital punishment an element of its manifesto. While the now-defunct fundamentalist Christian Heritage New Zealand
Christian Heritage New Zealand
The Christian Heritage Party of New Zealand was a New Zealand political party espousing Christian values...

 party did so, that minor party only ever commanded one to two percentage points of public support in most opinion polls until its dissolution in 2006. Evangelical Christians disagreed profoundly about capital punishment amongst one another, as The Kiwi Party, New Zealand's sole surviving fundamentalist Christian political party, does not support restoration of capital punishment. Many otherwise conservative Catholics also opposed and oppose restoration.

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