Another Phil Smith waiting to happen then?

A brutal murderer has been allowed to walk free three times a week to “refamiliarise himself with the community” and develop his computer skills, despite the Parole Board deeming him too dangerous for release.

Jason Butler is one of a group of convicted killers who have swapped jail for mental health units while serving life sentences, becoming special patients under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act.

As a result, they can get up to a week’s unsupervised leave while under treatment, depending on doctors’ recommendations, which must be approved by the director of mental health.

But some of their victims’ families and friends are calling for an urgent review of such killers’ leave after murderer Phillip Smith’s brazen escape to Brazil during temporary leave from Waikato’s Spring Hill prison last month.

His escape led to a temporary halt of all inmates’ leave and a Corrections Department review, but it didn’t include convicted offenders in mental health care.

A ministerial inquiry was launched to probe Smith’s escape, but it was yet unknown whether it would include special patients’ leave.

“I think it bloody sucks because in two hours, he could be on my doorstep. That fellow got to Brazil, mate,” the best friend of Butler’s victim said about his three-times-a-week unsupervised leave.

If he is so inclined, he can leave a trail of destruction in mere hours.   And this is what needs to be balanced before letting them go on unsupervised Tiki-tours.  

Butler slit the throat of former partner Stephanie Baker, 26, after stabbing her multiple times in his parents’ Tauranga home in July 1997 when she dropped off their one-year-old daughter.

Baker’s best friend, who requested anonymity because she feared for her safety, witnessed the horrific attack.

Convicted as a sane killer, Butler was sent to jail for life, but has spent most of his sentence in mental health care, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

“To me, he’s a walking time bomb.”

Under law, registered victims, such as Baker’s friend, are informed only when special patients are approved for unescorted leave for the first time.

In April, the Parole Board revealed that Butler started getting unescorted ground leave in October 2012 and last year began unescorted community leave three times a week.

If he kept improving, he could gain approval for overnight leave in the community, its decision said.

There have to be checks and balances to ensure we don’t get in the habit of locking people up too easily.  But is appears clear that the current emphasis is on procedure rather than common sense.

If the parole board are unhappy, and his doctors still have him as an active paranoid schizophrenic patient, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to have this man wandering around the neighbourhood to see what happens.

For argument’s sake, if he kills someone, will anyone be done for negligence?   I suspect not.   And that can’t be right.


– Deidre Mussen, The Dominion Post


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  • Rachael Membery

    Hopefully all of this sunlight on these ‘discretions’ in the system will tighten the rein. Smith/Traynor might have done us all a favour. Take note ‘the system’.

    • HtD

      Only if the public join SST or keep the issue in the spotlight some other way

  • Nige.

    Am i living in some parallel universe?

    Dear Mr. Key,

    please put this guy and people like him away in jail until he/they die……as 98% of New Zealanders would expect would be the norm…. thats what we voted you back in for….to undo what the socialist dun.

    Thats not too much to ask, is it?

    From Nige.

  • Justsayn

    According to the SST website he was given (in 1998) a “ten year life sentence”

    If he wasn’t in psychiatric care might be a free man (comparatively). I’m not sure I see a parallel with the Brazil idiot.

  • Pluto

    So a paranoid schizophrenic who has brutally murdered before gets to roam the streets.
    Is he cured ? It would appear not.
    Do they justify this decision purely on the fact that so far he hasn’t murdered some poor sod while he’s been out before ?
    I wonder if the people who make these decisions would happily have him roaming their own neighbourhood.

    • Nige.

      cured or not he should lose his right to life…or at the least his “quality” of life.

  • Alright

    The problem here is (as Nige points out below) that “Life” means circa 10 years, and then the system requires those so convicted have to be “rehabilitated” back into the community.

    So what happens if he stops taking his anti-psychotic drugs and cuts someone else up? They die and he goes back inside (after a $1 million trial).

    The question is not should he be trusted, but can we (the community) afford to trust him?

    My view is no, we can’t afford to trust him.

    • rantykiwi

      I think in cut and dried murder cases we should reintroduce capital punishment – that way the question of “can we afford to trust him?” never enters the equation.

      • Alright

        Sorry rantykiwi, I just don’t agree with killing anyone.

        Lock them up permanently. On balance it will save us money.

        • HtD

          Agreed. Juries wouldn’t convict for murder, knowing they are sending someone to their death. So they’d get a manslaughter conviction and be out in 5 or 6 years.

          • Alright

            You make a very good point. And anyone who thinks Capital Punishment will be reintroduced in NZ is dreaming.

  • digby

    Yet we see another example of where an individuals rights outweigh those of the community. Surely if he cannot be deemed as no risk (over and above the normal risk) then he needs to be detained until he is deemed no risk. I think the communities right to minimise this risk should outweigh the individuals right to be let loose onto said community.

  • Michael

    I’d be less worried about the next Phillip Smith, I’m more worried about the next Graeme Burton.

  • intelligentes candida diva

    “….ensure we don’t get in the habit of locking people up too easily….”  From what I have read here Butler was locked up justifiably as was Philip Smith. The focus ought to be on ..not to RELEASE people too easily.

    I believe these murderers harbour deep angers and dysfunctional attitudes and they give thought to what they do and authorities need to be vigilant they are not the ones being groomed or played by these murderers.

    • Alright

      You kill someone, you don’t get out. Simple.

      • Noeyedeer

        It is not simple. Not at all. You can not treat a killing by a sociopath like Phillip Smith in the same manner as you would a much-abused spouse killing his or her partner. The justice system recognises this by approaching all crime in a nuanced and discerning manner. It is the very essence of our legal system that each case be judged on its merits. If you want a black/white approach that treats all infractions the same, then try living in Saudi Arabia or any Taliban ruled territory.

        I am not saying Jason Butler deserves the degree of freedom he has been granted, but I am saying that simplistic approaches to crime and punishment, i.e. all murderers must have suffer eternal incarceration, has more in common with feudal terrorists than sophisticated democracies like the one I prefer to live in. YMMV.

        [Edited for clarity]

        • Alright

          No idea: murderers should be considered in “a nuanced and discerning manner.” OK. The man who murdered Blessie on the North Shore earlier this year was killed by a man wearing a GPS bracelet. He was on parole. Go talk to her children about “nuance and discernment.”

          FYI, I don’t lack human empathy. I was once employed by the Social Welfare Department as a Social Worker.

          A PS: Talk to me about nuance and discernment after one of your relatives is murdered.