Trials and tribulations
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.