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The Trials of Eric Mareo

7 In the Condemned Cell

7 In the Condemned Cell

1 Geoffrey Robertson, The justice Game (London: Chatto & Windus, 1998), p.97.

2 This was at least the official rationale for the speedy dispatch of convicted murderers. Robertson QC gives the real reason as being '… to emphasise the deterrent effect of punishment which followed so soon after the exposure of the facts of the crime in court' and also '… to ensure that no campaign of sympathy for the criminal had time to build up a head of steam.' The Justice Game, p.75.

3 These are actually the written words of Melville Harcourt who wrote an unconventional biography of Moreton that takes the conceit of being an autobiography, A Parson in Prison: A Biography of the Rev. George Edgar Moreton (Auckland: Whitcombe & Tombs, 1942), pp.182, 298.

4 Mareo to O'Leary, 2 July 1936.

5 Truth, 1 July 1936.

6 Ibid.

7 A Mother to Mason, 8 July 1936, EMP.

8 Harcourt, I Appeal, pp.70, 72.

9 Petition to the Minister of Justice, 16 July 1936, EMP.

10 Press interest was sparked it seems by a leader in the Christchurch Star Sun on 28 February 1936. See for example the subsequent editorials in the Greymouth Evening Star, 29 February 1936 and the Wanganui Chronical, 4 March 1936 and Pauline Engel, The Abolition of Capital Punishment in New Zealand, 1935-1961 (Wellington: Dept. of Justice, 1977), pp.10-17, from whom these references have been taken.

11 WN, 4 March 1936.

12 Quoted in Engel, The Abolition of Capital Punishment, p.12.

13 Ibid.

14 Truth, 24 June 1936.

15 Sherwood Young, Guilty on the Gallows: Famous Capital Crimes of New Zealand (Wellington: Grantham House, 1998), p.9.

16 Callan to the Attorney-General, 24 June 1936, EMP.

17 Ibid.

18 O'Leary to Mason, 24 July 1936, EMP.

19 Meredith to the Solicitor-General, 26 July 1936, EMP.

20 Elizabeth Mareo to Mason, 26 June 1936, EMP.

21 Quoted in Greg Newbold, Punishment and Politics: The Maximum Security Prison in New Zealand (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1989), p.7.

22 Dallard to Mason, 17 July 1936, EMP.

23 Ibid.

24 Who were: the Right Hon. M.J. Savage, Hon. P. Fraser, Hon. W. Nash, Hon. D.G. Sullivan, Hon. H.T. Armstrong, Hon. R. Semple, Hon. W.E. Parry, Hon. P.C. Webb, Hon. F. Jones, Hon. W. Lee Martin, Hon. F. Langstone and Hon. M. Fagan.

page 174

25 Truth, 12 August 1936. By way of addendum, the death penalty for murder was not abolished until 1941 when, somewhat bizarrely, amending legislation was rushed through the house in order to avoid a potential constitutional crisis. The then Governor-General, Sir Cyril Newall, indicated that he would refuse to act on the advice of Cabinet that a sentence of flogging which had been imposed on four prisoners at Mt Eden should be remitted. He did so not because he was an advocate of corporal punishment (he was not) but because he considered it to be constitutionally improper for the Executive to override the will of Parliament (as expressed in the form of statutory penalties for certain offences) in this way. Of course the same constitutional objection could be made to the Executive's long-standing practice in relation to capital cases. In any event, the Government's solution was to announce that it was shortly to introduce a bill abolishing flogging. And as the issues of corporal and capital punishment had always been regarded by the Labour Party as inextricably linked, it followed that the amendment would, and did, also proscribe the death penalty. Equally strangely - in light of Mason's oft repeated comments that abolition was one matter upon which the Labour Party would not tolerate dissent - the amending legislation was deliberately introduced and passed while the Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, was overseas, apparently in the knowledge that it might well not have been supported by him. In the following years, which saw the reintroduction of the death penalty by a National Government and its abolition again as a result of the passage of the Crimes Bill 1961, the Mareo case was often cited by proponents of abolition in support of their arguments.