A rape he did not commit shadowed David Dougherty until the day he died.
The Manawatu man served more than three years in jail after being convicted of the abduction and rape of an 11-year-old girl in West Auckland in 1992.
Dougherty was acquitted after a retrial in 1997, on the basis of DNA evidence, and in 2001, he received an apology from the Government and was awarded $868,728.80 in compensation. In 2003 Nicholas Reekie was found guilty of the rape.
But Dougherty’s partner of 27 years, Joann Atutolu, said he changed forever after the prison sentence that should have never happened.
* David Dougherty, wrongly convicted of rape and abduction, dies after long illness
* Wrongly imprisoned David Dougherty swears off the booze
* Falsely imprisoned: David Dougherty’s story
* Wrongly imprisoned man David Dougherty admits assaulting police officer
* David Dougherty: I’m sorry
When they meet in the early 1990s Atutolu and Dougherty bonded over their love of whanau. She described him as a soft, caring person who loved her children as if they were his own.
“My kids were his kids. He loved them to pieces.”
The couple adopted one child together and all of the children knew him as dad or Papa Bear.
He was a kind man who would sing the children songs and make sure they had a cooked meal every night, Atutolu said.
But Dougherty didn’t come without his flaws. He became less social, had alcohol problems and became depressed as he tried to cope with the trauma of the wrongful conviction.
“He never got over it. He was always looking over his shoulder.
“Although he used to drink when we met, he really went into drinking after that.”
“He let himself go.”
The man Atutolu knew amassed more than 70 convictions, mostly relating to theft and alcohol-fuelled offences.
The drinking was the hardest thing for Atutolu to deal with.
“I coped because I loved David. I loved him and I know he was an innocent man.”
Most recently, in March, Dougherty appeared in Palmerston North District court for assaulting a police officer in 2016 – similar to two charges he faced for threatening behaviour against police in 2011.
Dougherty had been drinking alcohol during the 2016 assault because he was grieving the recent death of his mother.
He had since tried to give up drinking due to suffering from pancreatitis.
Dougherty had endured acute pancreatitis twice but Atutolu could not confirm whether it was the cause of his death.
University of Canterbury criminologist Greg Newbold said Dougherty would have suffered humiliation in prison for the particularly heinous crime of child molestation, which could have aggravated his drinking.
But he could not see how this would have affected his ongoing criminal behaviour.
It wasn’t a case of “one size fits all” where everyone would recover, but Newbold said the Government couldn’t have done more to help Dougherty after he was exonerated and received a large payout.
It was impossible to know how Dougherty’s life would have gone if he hadn’t been convicted but people could bounce back from a wrongful conviction or a prison sentence, Newbold said.
Newbold himself turned his life around after serving time in the 1980s for drug-dealing.
He began his academic career in 1975 while serving 7 1/2 years in prison and went on to gain a master’s degree with first-class honours from the University of Auckland.
But not everyone comes out on top. Dougherty went down a path of self-destruction.
He and his partner had their ups and downs but two things were sure – Dougherty was loved by his partner and he was rightfully acquitted of the rape conviction which haunted him throughout his life.
Although Atutolu struggled through Dougherty’s drinking problems and dozens of convictions, just as he did, she said she would miss coming home to him sitting on his favourite chair greeting her at the front door.