OPINION: A few hours after watching the man who had abused and subsequently killed her daughter be sent to jail, his parole papers arrive in 87-year-old Shirley Williams’ letterbox.
The papers are dated and couriered on the very same day her daughter’s killer had been sentenced. It’s cruel. The shock is immense. The rug of justice has been yanked from beneath her at lightning speed.
The life and death of Delia Grace Williams, 55, is another chapter in the very long book of domestic abuse that occurs in our country.
Unfortunately not all cases even make the news and many of us continue to live in ignorance of what is sometimes shockingly close to home.
READ MORE: * Three years’ jail for a man who drove over his partner * Mark Stevens pleads guilty to manslaughter * Decision to amend parole condition slammed * Paroled cold case killer Mark Pakenham back behind bars
This case did make the news. The former journalist in me thinks that was largely due to the fact Delia’s partner, Mark Stevens, 59, ran her over in his silver BMW in the well-heeled Wellington’s “blue chip” suburb of Northland.
Not an everyday occurrence for the plethora of academics and government workers residing in their expensive wooden homes perched precariously on the surrounding hillside overlooking the nearby leafy green Botanic Gardens.
Delia had been in a volatile relationship with Stevens for more than a decade. Her occasional bruises were signs that all was not well in the relationship yet she’d cover them up with makeup and always forgave him.
Pleas from those close to her to leave him fell on deaf ears.
Records show police had attended at least 10 domestic-related incidents at their home, and diaries found after her death revealed details of on-going abuse which she’d largely kept to herself.
Delia was the former wife of my brother. I’m very close to their only son, my nephew, Byron. When Byron called me one night in March last year, I was hoping it was to tell me he’d asked his girlfriend Ali to marry him.
Instead he said police had just turned up at his place of work and told him his mother had been killed. She’d been run over by Stevens.
Initially everyone assumed it was an accident. But why had it taken almost 24 hours for police to track Byron down?
When the family discovered the tragic news was hampered by the fact Stevens wouldn’t co-operate with police or provide them with next of kin details, the waters suddenly turned murky.
The room at the police station was depressing. Brown puffy vinyl chairs, tatty posters, water dished out in plastic cups. The detective chose her words carefully but the basics were clear – from witness accounts it appeared as though Delia was trying to stop Mark from drink-driving.
He reversed up the driveway and onto Garden Road, she tried to open the driver’s door, he held it shut. When he took his hand off the handle, the door opened and Delia fell onto the road. Mark continued, running over her. He didn’t stop.
The detective gave Byron a plastic bag containing some of the jewellery Delia was wearing. Other items, including her handbag and cellphone, will be kept as evidence, she says.
The lady from Victim Support talked about their role. She says they will be depositing a few thousand dollars into his account immediately to take financial pressure off for the next few days.
They also offered to cover the funeral expenses while pamphlets and phone numbers were dished out.
Victim Support is truly an amazing service that most Kiwis will hopefully never have the misfortune of needing. They’re like a grief concierge service.
They’ll book and pay for flights for family members to attend court appearances, organise counselling, pass you tissues when the tears well and hold the hand of anyone who looks like they need the comfort of a human touch.
From the police station, we went to the hospital mortuary. A seemingly endless series of corridors in the basement of Wellington Hospital led us to a ‘viewing room’.
Again, no effort was made to make the surrounds a bit more bearable for the grief stricken. It was stark and cold – both figuratively and literally.
Delia was in the next room, go in when you are ready, says the women who has the unenviable job of wheeling in bodies so families can see their recently departed loved ones. Delia was covered up to her neck due to the inflicted injuries.
Her face was bruised. It reminded me of the horrific images Women’s Refuge used in a powerful campaign several years ago.
“What is the price of taking someone’s life in such a horrific and violent way?”, I wonder as I stared at the distorted sheet that jutted out at odd angles, unable to adequately conceal the horrors of what lay beneath.
Just over 12 months later it became evident how loosely justice is defined in our country. After initially being charged with murder, Stevens pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
While the family was willing to sit through a trial, there was admittedly some relief at not having to endure Delia’s private life being aired in such a public and sterile forum.
However, they hoped sentencing would take into account earlier assaults, previous drunk driving convictions and the fact Mark fled the scene after running over Delia with both his front and rear tyres.
He claimed not to know what he’d done but admitted feeling a bump as he drove away after seeing her fall onto the road. The judge didn’t seem to buy his claim of ignorance.
So what was her life worth? Three years. A mere 156 weeks. A pitiful 1095 days. Even that isn’t a true reflection of what her killer will serve.
When Stevens’ parole papers arrived less than 24 hours after family members delivered their heart-wrenching victim impact statements in Wellington’s High Court, it was a slap in the face.
The family can oppose parole, and will need to have their submissions in at the end of this month ahead of his first parole hearing in May.
They had lost a mother, daughter and sister in the most unimaginable way, yet the man who took her away from them will soon be back in his own bed.
Something needs to be done.