8:30pm Sunday, August 9 on TV One
Sunday Theatre has an encore screening of the compelling local drama Until Proven Innocent, tonight at 8.30pm on TV ONE. This feature-length drama is based on the true story of the crusade to free David Dougherty – the man wrongly charged with the 1992 rape and abduction of an 11-year-old girl.
It stars Kiwi actors Jodie Rimmer, Peter Elliott and Tim Spite as the three strangers who fought to free him, with David Dougherty played by Cohen Holloway.
In 1993, David Dougherty was found guilty and sentenced to seven years and nine months for the crime. When the verdict was read, he was dragged from the courtroom, screaming at the jury that they had got it wrong.
Written and produced by Donna Malane and Paula Boock, Until Proven Innocent recounts one of New Zealand’s most crucial DNA cases of its time – in which a semen stain was used to prove a man’s innocence rather than his guilt.
“It’s an important story of injustice and the fight to free an innocent man,” says Paula Boock. It took two trials, two appeals, a petition to the Governor-General and three and a half years in prison, before David Dougherty won his freedom.
“Usually, your guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said at the time of the acquittal. “But in rape cases, your innocence must be proven beyond any doubt. And when you line a little girl up against a fully-grown adult male, you obviously have questions that are going to cause concerns about who is telling the truth.”
The true heroes of this compelling and moving drama are three people who had never met David Dougherty. Lawyer Murray Gibson (Peter Elliott), scientist Arie Geursen (Tim Spite) and journalist Donna Chisholm (Jodie Rimmer) independently came to believe that an innocent man had been wrongly convicted.
Why did they do it? They weren’t after publicity or money, and his was hardly a popular case to champion. After all, the victim had named her neighbour David Dougherty as her attacker. Dougherty himself was no saint, with various petty crimes to his name.
But Gibson, Chisholm and Geursen’s unease turned to concern, concern to outrage, and outrage to obsession as they encountered obstacle after obstacle in their crusade to overturn the conviction.
During a seven-year campaign, the extraordinary actions of the trio led to the case being revisited, the guilty verdict quashed, a new trial ordered and an eventual acquittal. But their work was not finished. Over the next few years, this team campaigned to have a shattered Dougherty compensated for the years spent in prison. He received $869,000 in 2001.
“We’ve been absolutely privileged to be able to tell this story – and have been indebted to the real people involved in the case who have allowed us to turn their lives into drama,” Donna Malane says. “It has been an honour to talk to David, who has been remarkably generous in allowing us to tell this story.”
Sunday Theatre: Until Proven Innocent highlights serious issues surrounding the credibility of DNA evidence in the early 1990s. But the film also completes the Dougherty saga, by recounting the subsequent conviction of the real offender – multiple rapist Nicholas Reekie, who in 2003 was found guilty of the crime.