The Herald
July 13, 2001

David Dougherty - Locked up in a nightmare
by Catherine Masters

How does it feel to be sent to prison for a child rape you did not commit? Catherine Masters reports.

David Dougherty is no recidivist criminal - but he is hardly a saint either.

His long record of petty crime reduced the $868,728 compensation he has been awarded for wrongful imprisonment and the "horrific nightmare" he endured after being convicted of abducting and raping a child.

DNA evidence subsequently proved his innocence.

Mr Dougherty's lawyer, Murray Gibson, says the compensation is unfairly weighted against those with previous convictions. The West Auckland man, who plans to move to a town where no one knows him, asked for $1.3 million.

But Auckland QC Stuart Grieve, in a report for the Minister of Justice, says Mr Dougherty committed numerous offences over time "as a matter of choice."

Even though some had sent him to prison, he continued to offend: "Mr Dougherty cannot be categorised as a recidivist but it would be equally unrealistic to regard him as a saint."

The crime sheet begins with two counts of burglary when Mr Dougherty was just 15.

In 1983, aged 16 1/2, he was sentenced to three months' periodic detention for shoplifting and stealing a car.

The next year he was convicted of more burglaries, unlawful taking a motor vehicle and failing to notify the periodic detention warden of his non-attendance.

He received three months' corrective training.

The following year, at 18, he was convicted of obtaining by false pretences (27 counts), burglary, possession of cannabis, theft of a motor vehicle and unlawful conversion of a motor vehicle.

This time he was given nine months' jail.

Mr Dougherty was next before the courts on four charges of burglary and two of theft, committed between 1986 and 1988. The penalty was eight months' periodic detention.

In 1990, a series of shoplifting charges attracted a penalty of probationary supervision for one year.

In 1992, there were cannabis-related offences and shoplifting, and a month later more offending led to a two-month jail term.

Again, in 1993, he was convicted of theft, resulting in a sentence of 21 days' jail.

By then Mr Dougherty had already been sentenced to nearly eight years' jail for raping and abducting an 11-year-old girl, his West Auckland neighbour.

He was not set free until April 1997 when new DNA evidence led to a retrial acquittal - and then this week an apology from Justice Minister Phil Goff.

Mr Dougherty's innocence, said Mr Goff, had been proclaimed "without a shadow of a doubt."

In his report, Mr Grieve says that even for someone like Mr Dougherty, being wrongfully accused, convicted and imprisoned for serious sexual offending can only be described as a "horrific nightmare."

Excerpts of Mr Dougherty's affidavit in the report describe that nightmare, which he says has left him unable to hold down a job or to function socially and with an obsessive compulsive disorder where he feels a constant need to pray for people who are dead.

His affidavit says he did not hesitate in speaking to police when they first questioned him because he had nothing to hide.

He did so without any legal assistance and also agreed to the interview being videotaped.

Police asked for a blood sample and Mr Dougherty was confident the DNA results would prove he was not involved. He also thought detectives would "sense they had the wrong guy."

But he was arrested immediately after the interview and was not granted bail. Instead, he went to Mt Eden Prison and having been there before, he knew it would take just one comment that he was a child-rapist to make him a marked man.

"I was freaking out because I knew what happened to child-rapists in jail ... They are smashed to pieces.

Child-rapists are considered fair game, he says.

"People who rape old ladies and children were considered to be worse than even a murderer because if it was a gun battle or knife attack on another male it was not as deplorable as a guy raping a little girl or an old lady.

"An inmate may have a domestic on the phone with his wife and if he felt the need to vent his frustration he would more than likely smash straight in the face of the guy he knew to be a child-rapist.

"The mentality that prevails is that the child-rapist is the dog to be kicked. This was what was going through my mind when I knew that I would not get bail."

On remand Mr Dougherty was in the mainstream jail and every night and morning he feared that someone would find out what he was in for.

"I would have just been smashed and left at the door, with the message to the officers that they should not bring scum in here like that.

"I was not in isolation because when I went in I decided, 'Look, I didn't do this,' and I did not want to go into the protection unit because I knew this was where the scum, the most deplorable criminals went and I had not done it.

"I decided I was not going to put myself in the position where prisoners glare through the bars at you when you went to court and yell out [obscenities] at you. I knew that I was taking the risk of my life but I was adamant.

Conditions in Mt Eden were unbelievable.

"It is a rathole - you actually see the rats at night.

"After every visit I was strip-searched to complete nudity. You were obliged to bend over and let them have a look from behind.

"I had to share a cell with some despicable people, both in personal hygiene and mental attitude."

An inmate in the cell next door slashed his wrists with a razor blade from his shaver.

"The sheets were covered in blood. I remember the bang of the doors, the stink of the detergent and the buckets - it is hard to describe."

Mr Dougherty still felt the DNA test would clear him. When denied bail in the district court, he appealed to the High Court and the application was postponed until the DNA results were received.

After 10 weeks in custody, the results came back inconclusive. He was granted bail.

The test result worried him - it would be his word against the girl's.

When a guilty verdict was given in the High Court he could not believe it.

"At that point I actually started screaming and tried to pull away from the officers to ask my family what was going on.

"I addressed the jury before I was taken away and said, 'You got it wrong - I'm not guilty. To the day I die I tell you I'm not guilty.'

"I was dragged away crying and screaming until I was put into the elevator.

"I was still freaking out. I knew now I had been convicted of abducting, raping and beating an 11-year-old girl."

At Mt Eden he had to be physically restrained.

"I was taken into the round room, the suicide watchroom. They took off all my clothes and left me in my underpants on a mattress with one blanket. I screamed that night away.

"I wanted to kill myself. That is when I prayed to the Lord and said, 'I cannot handle this ... I am going to kill myself.'

"But you cannot do anything in that room unless you are brave enough to bash your head against the concrete floor."

Mr Dougherty knew he could receive a sentence of 14 to 16 years - and expected a minimum of 14.

"I was aware that the complainant's version of events was that she was tied up, taken away, tied to a tree, drugged, untied, raped and threatened to be killed."

For three days after the conviction he cried. He could not look at or communicate with anyone and was a high suicide risk.

His family accepted his innocence and tried to give support. His dad - who died while Mr Dougherty was in jail - visited and tried to comfort him. But they were separated by a plastic screen.

"Because of the level of terror and helplessness I felt, I knew I was scaring my dad."

At sentencing, Mr Dougherty told the judge he would go to his grave denying the offence. To his surprise, the judge merely said his hands were tied, that Mr Dougherty had been convicted and he, the judge, had a job to do.

In jail - Mt Eden and Paremoremo - he still thought the truth would come out.

His father found out about new DNA techniques and Mr Dougherty spent all his time working on his defence - countless hours going through the girl's testimony and all aspects of the case.

When the Appeal Court turned him down Mr Dougherty was again devastated.

"My lawyer told me that was it and we could not go any further. I almost went mad and was not coping.

"I told [my partner] and my family to go away and not to visit me. I just wanted to be left alone. I knew I was facing another four years."

Mr Dougherty's partner and his mother put money into his bank account so he could buy food.

After he lost the appeal his thoughts turned to escape.

"I never, never got into a state of mind of just getting on with my prison term."

He refused sex-offender therapy and lost the chance of early parole.

In Paremoremo from December 1993 to July 1995, just half an hour a day was spent outside the cellblock in a "pocket yard."

Some officers treated the inmates as second-class citizens.

"I was advised by a prison officer ... they are actually trained to ignore prisoners in order to let them know their place."

Mr Dougherty was never reprimanded at Paremoremo and was wing supervisor of his unit, receiving a glowing report.

A transfer to Turangi made it harder and expensive for his family to visit.

A psychologist stopped treating him for stress "as the Department of Corrections would not allow me to be counselled unless I admitted my guilt."

Finally, in August 1996, he heard that the Appeal Court had ordered a retrial and "it was like YES. I went straight to my hut and thanked our Lord and then just lay down in the field."

Now, while Mr Dougherty struggles to deal with the psychological residue of hate mail and and being named in a book of sex offenders, there is still the obvious question: If he did not hold a knife over the girl and abduct and rape her, then who did and where is the offender now?