August 26, 2004
Confessions of an innocent man
Lawrence Lloyd knew he didn't kill Kathy Sheffield. But he couldn't remember what happened, so he confessed. Now it turns out that he is innocent. Bridget Carter examines a tangled web.
"If I did something like that I don't think I would still be talking. I would have put a bullet through my head," he told the Herald last year.
He woke one day and found her lying dead on the floor of his home. The pair had been drinking and he had blacked out. He could not remember anything and thought he had killed her.
"I was pretty stressed and wound up to the max," he recalled yesterday.
"I didn't do it, but I thought 'I am going to get done for this, no one is going to believe me'."
So under police interrogation he confessed.
Lloyd, who had previous convictions, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and went to prison for seven years.
Ten years later, police revealed they had got it wrong.
They charged another man with Katherine Sheffield's murder and yesterday Lloyd, now 52, had his conviction quashed.
He lives alone in a remote part of Northland in a half-finished house surrounded by bush.
Yesterday, reflecting on the consequences of Kathy's murder, he said that when it happened even her relatives believed he was innocent.
His attitude to the police investigators was one of anger, compounded by the fact that he had just lost his "best mate".
"People said to me, 'You didn't do this, mate,' and I said 'nah', but that's the way it goes."
It was September 1994 and everyone was talking about the death of 23-year-old Katherine Sheffield, a fun-loving Kaitaia College country girl, who loved animals.
She lived briefly with Lawrence Lloyd and when they broke up on good terms, she moved into a caravan.
Lloyd's home was in Kohumaru Rd, about 6km south of Mangonui, and the caravan was at Aurere, 4km west of Taipa.
Both areas are in the lonely, isolated backblocks of Northland, with gravel roads, rugged bush, patches of uncared for farmland and the occasional small farm house, tucked away.
Kathy was last seen on August 22 when a friend left her at the gates of the farm where she had lived.
When she went missing, family feared the worst, as it was unlike her to disappear.
The fact that her bank account had not being touched and her caravan showed no signs of disturbance increased the concerns.
A month later, on September 21, her body was found in a shallow grave close to Lloyd's farmhouse.
About 30 police and forensic experts went to the site and nine days later Lloyd was charged with her murder.
When the case was heard before a High Court jury in Whangarei, even Kathy's mother, Judith Garrett, had doubts over whether Lloyd had killed her daughter.
She said there were facts that did not fit and later said she thought Lloyd was there when her daughter was killed, but that she did not think he killed her.
Prosecutors said in court that Lloyd had stabbed Kathy in the chest and slashed her throat, and that her body was found with the knife Lloyd used to kill her.
During a depositions hearing before his trial, he showed extreme emotion and had to pause before answering questions.
He was insistent that the last time he saw Kathy was when they shopped together on August 8 in Mangonui.
But the police said Lloyd later told them Kathy came at him with a butcher's knife after they had been drinking at his house. He pushed her away and remembered nothing more.
When he woke up in a chair and found Kathy's body, he cleaned up the blood then buried her, crying and praying as he did so.
He wrapped her body in a blue sleeping bag, tying it with ropes and placed it under carpet, corrugated iron and polythene.
Police said that during part of the interview conducted at the grave site, Lloyd admitted the killing saying "Kats, I'm sorry, you're my best mate. I did it. I'm sorry."
They also said that Lloyd told them that he cut Kathy's throat after becoming enraged that she had stolen his cannabis and sold it for $40,000.
Lloyd's lawyer, Ken Bailey, said yesterday that some of the things police claimed Lloyd said were untrue.
He could not expand on what they were because it could influence the trial of the other man, who has now been charged with murdering Katherine Sheffield.
Canterbury University criminologist Greg Newbold said that if someone made the extremely unusual move of confessing to a crime they did not do, it was likely to be because they truly thought they had done it.
He doubted whether a false confession would be made only because of pressure from the police.
Lloyd said that when he was sent to prison, he never really thought of trying to clear his name because he was too busy trying to survive in the tough prison environment.
There were hardened offenders who would brandish you "the weakling" if you ever showed any weakness, he said.
"The thing is you are there and you just have to get on with it and do it.
"You feel hopeless."
He felt there was absolutely nothing he could do while on the inside, but what kept him going was that when he was released he would try to sort things out.
Lloyd's first piece of hope came when police started a second investigation into his case in August 2001.
A man serving a jail term in Rimutaka Prison had confessed to killing Kathy.
But hope turned to disappointment when police dropped the case, saying the man was not Kathy's killer.
He had dreamed he killed her, and his confession was the result of a dream.
By that stage, Lloyd had been released from prison and had shifted back to Northland.
There, he has been working on fishing boats, spending time with his relatives who lived around the district and working on to re-building the Kohumaru Rd house he lived in, which burned down while he was in jail.
Last year, the wooden frame of a house was up, and on the site were a hut and a "long drop" toilet.
Yesterday Lloyd told the Herald that six months ago he thought there was a possibility that his conviction might be quashed when police arrived at his house with a digger.
He knew why they were there, but he had been forbidden to speak about it.
Then, there were the rumours that someone was to be charged, but after the last case of a re-investigation, he knew not to get his hopes up, so soon after he forgot about it.
He said he was at home when he heard on the radio that someone else had been charged with the murder.
Lloyd said he just swore. Then people started turning up with wine and beer and there was a celebration.
When asked if the whole thing had been emotional, he shook his head and said "well, whoa ... yeah."
Outside court yesterday, an emotional Lloyd fought back tears as he said he was looking forward to getting home.
He said he needed to get back because he was worried about his aggressive dog, which was roaming free.
He had carried on his house-building project, and he said he liked the quiet life up north.
He might buy a bus and travel around, and he might carry on with his fishing.
At the moment, he was not really thinking about any compensation, and he did not think a celebration was warranted.
"I just want to live a normal life," he said.
"There shouldn't be any celebration because someone else is getting done for it."
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