Tri­als and tribu­la­tions

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con­sid­er­ing be­ing a nun – was cau­tioned about spend­ing too much time with her in case she was led astray.

When she left sec­ondary school at 15 she trav­elled to the United States, even­tu­ally re­turn­ing to Can­ter­bury to study a BA, but changed tack a few years in.

‘‘I had so many peo­ple say­ing, ‘You have to do law, you must do law. I got to re­alise by then I could. I al­ways wanted to be the per­son sav­ing some­one from the ex­e­cu­tioner.’’

Dyhrberg took up work at law firms in the early 80s be­fore open­ing her own prac­tice in 1986, con­vert­ing a for­mer brothel in Otahuhu, South Auck­land, into her of­fice and cycling there daily on her push­bike.

‘‘Even­tu­ally I started get­ting the results in court. At first you don’t know how – you think it’s a fluke. You go through pe­ri­ods where you think some­one is go­ing to lift the net and ex­pose you for the fraud that you are.’’

The fear of be­ing ex­posed as a fraud is long gone, in­stead Dyhrberg was el­e­vated to Queen’s Coun­sel in 2014 and has swapped the push bike for a 2016 Mus­tang.

Long­time friend Jan McCart­ney QC said Dyhrberg has al­ways been ‘‘fiercely loyal’’ to her friends and clients.

‘‘She is also ter­rific com­pany. She is not judg­men­tal in her hu­mour, she is just funny. If some­thing needs to be said she will say it – and to the per­son’s face, not be­hind their back.’’

Ex­am­ples of her straight-talk­ing inl­cude telling a court re­porter she would ‘‘sue their arse off’’ if they broke her client’s name sup­pres­sion, while her ten­der­ness , ac­cord­ing to McCart­ney, was on dis­play when de­fend­ing a man ac­cused of killing his step-child.

‘‘The jury wouldn’t look at him, the judge wouldn’t look at him, the peo­ple in court wouldn’t talk to him. He was there all on his own.’’

Dyhrberg pur­chased the man a new jer­sey, to bol­ster his con­fi­dence. That morn­ing she walked into court and the man asked her how he looked. ‘‘She just turned to him and said, ‘You look fan­tas­tic’.’’

She is also ter­rific com­pany. She is not judg­men­tal in her hu­mour, she is just funny. If some­thing needs to be said she will say it – and to the per­son’s face, not be­hind their back. Jan McCart­ney

In Dyhrberg’s eyes, we are all more than the worst thing we have ever done. Hard­ened crim­i­nals are lost boys in her eyes. Dur­ing her time in South Auck­land, she rep­re­sented a long list of young men who found them­selves on the wrong side of the poverty line, and the wrong side of the law.

Such as Taffy Hotene, the con­victed rapist and mur­derer who later took his own life while in prison. ‘‘He lived un­der a house for God’s sake . . . Taffy was so bro­ken.’’

Frus­trat­ingly, many of her clients were vic­tims of the same cock­tail of so­cial degra­da­tion. Lit­tle-tono ed­u­ca­tion, dys­func­tional fam­i­lies cou­pled with a dan­ger­ous ab­sence of hope led them to do de­struc­tive things.

‘‘Th­ese boys’ lives are just so aw­ful, they just say one day, ‘What is the point?’.

‘‘Sadly the re­sources aren’t out there to pick th­ese peo­ple up so when they do walk through the gates they have got the sup­port that is needed. ‘‘Em­ploy­ment is crit­i­cal. Gov­ern­ments don’t want to know that. They don’t want to equate crimes and em­ploy­ment.’’

The same goes for gangs. Al­low­ing peo­ple to find mean­ing in so­ci­ety is vi­tal, ac­cord­ing to Dyhrberg. ‘‘Every North Is­land Mon­grel Mob mem­ber had my num­ber in their pocket for a long time. Un­til so­ci­ety un­der­stand gangs they will never sort out the is­sue. Why do peo­ple grav­i­tate to gangs, why do they have this in­cred­i­ble loy­alty to them and not to so­ci­ety? Be­cause so­ci­ety has shunned them.’’ Per­haps no case high­lighted the bro­ken­ness of our cul­ture as much as the mur­der of Michael Choy.

The South Auck­land pizza de­liv­ery man was lured to his death by a gang of youths who wanted his piz­zas and cash. Dyhrberg took on Philip Kaukasi, one of the youths ac­cused of mur­der. The youngest de­fen­dant was Bai­ley Ju­nior Ku­rariki, who was 12 at the time.

‘‘I would come in to talk to Kaukasi prior to the trial and he would sit on a chair and put his head to the ground un­der the ta­ble.

‘‘I would be sit­ting there with my head three inches from the ground talk­ing to him up­side down.’’ Af­ter Kaukasi was found guilty of manslaugh­ter, Dyhrberg was head­ing to the cells of the High Court to check on him and spot­ted Ku­rariki, who had also been found guilty of manslaugh­ter, in a room with a guard.

‘‘He had been a cheeky lit­tle devil to me. He quite liked me. For him I was like a school teacher, or a mother. He was tiny. I asked if he wanted a hug. He whim­pered ‘Yes’. I put my arms around him and held him.

‘‘He just melted and cried, and cried.’’

In 2015, Dyhrberg rep­re­sented Michael Thrift Murray, who was charged with killing patched Head Hunter Con­nor Mor­ris Murray pleaded not guilty to mur­der, say­ing he did not in­tend to hurt or kill Mor­ris. In­stead, he claimed he acted in self-de­fence.

The case drew huge me­dia at­ten­tion due to Mor­ris’ part­ner be­ing Mil­lie El­der-Holmes, the daugh­ter of the late Sir Paul Holmes.

Murray was found guilty – a verdict that still doesn’t sit well with Dyhrberg. ‘‘I am still won­der­ing how he got con­victed. He was at­tacked by thugs.’’

De­fend­ing what some think is the in­de­fen­si­ble doesn’t bother her. She keeps her mind away from whether her client is in­no­cent or guilty, only fo­cus­ing on whether the ev­i­dence to con­vict is there.

‘‘It’s not me who lets some­one walk free,’’ she says. ‘‘It is the judge or jury. If the ev­i­dence is not there, then no con­vic­tion. I can sleep easy with that. It is my func­tion that the law is fol­lowed on be­half of an ac­cused per­son. The law says beyond rea­son­able doubt. If it is not beyond rea­son­able doubt they are en­ti­tled to not be con­victed.’’

In say­ing that, some ver­dicts have haunted her – none more so than Teina Pora’s.

She took on Pora as a client long be­fore his name was known. The teenager had been charged with the rape and mur­der of Pa­p­a­toe­toe woman Su­san Bur­dett in 1992.

Pora was fa­mously ex­on­er­ated for the crimes in 2015, af­ter the Privy Coun­cil quashed the con­vic­tions. By that time he had spent over 20 years in prison for crimes he did not com­mit.

Dyhrberg had stopped act­ing for him at that stage, but had led the de­fence on his first two tri­als.

‘‘Teina’s case haunted me. It haunted me for years and years. You have to be very care­ful as a


Dyhrberg has spent three decades at the sharp end of some of New Zealand’s most no­to­ri­ous cases. Be­low, she’s pic­tured with Mac­syna King at the in­quest into the deaths of Chris and Cru Kahui.

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