PLEA FOR PARDON: A banner calling on justice for Kevin Henry at the 2017 Invasion Day parade in Brisbane.
PLEA FOR PARDON: A banner calling on justice for Kevin Henry at the 2017 Invasion Day parade in Brisbane. Contributed

Was the wrong man jailed for Rockhampton murder?

THE rumour mill has churned the same message in Rockhampton for 25 years: Kevin Henry didn't do it.

Now Rockhampton journalist Amy McQuire and human rights advocate Martin Hodgson believe there is enough proof to justify a pardon for an innocent man locked up for a quarter of a century while a murderer walked free.

On August 31, 1991, the naked body of a woman was found by a fishermen on the northern bank of the Fitzroy River.

She was identified several days later as Linda (her surname will not be published out of respect for her family), a woman who had recently moved to Rockhampton from South Australia two weeks prior where she had managed a preschool.

She suffered schizophrenia and had been missing for eight days.

Drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic Toonooba House, where Linda was believed to have been assaulted prior to her body being found, was scoured for clues.

Within roughly a week, police had arrested and charged Henry and three women with Linda's death.

The charges against the women were eventually reduced to grievous bodily harm and they served out their sentences before being released.

But Henry, now 47, is still behind bars unable to get parole despite serving his full 25 year sentence.

Ms McQuire, who grew up in Rockhampton and has returned after some years away, said the case was well-known among the city's Aboriginal community despite receiving little mainstream media coverage since the trial.

"Rumours have always circulated, particularly around the Rockhampton Aboriginal community, that Kevin Henry was innocent because even back at that time, people knew he wasn't the type to do that," she said.

"He was well known as sort of a loner.

"He was in jail before, but for juvenile crimes, which a lot of young Aboriginal men go into jail for.

"He's never been violent, so it was just people didn't believe Kevin had actually done this, but not many people had the resources to start to look at the transcripts and actually show what had actually happened in the judicial process.

"It's just stayed dormant for the past 25 years."

That's where Ms McQuire stepped in.

After interviewing human rights advocate Martin Hodgson, who has worked on dozens of cases internationally as part of the Foreign Prisoner Support Service, she asked him to take a look at Henry's case.

He agreed there were grounds to those rumours and the pair started a solid campaign to prove Henry's innocence.

A year of research led to a podcast, Curtain, which Ms McQuire says will continue until Henry walks free with a pardon.

A pardon from the Queensland Governor is the only option left in this case, with all official appeals exhausted.

Ms McQuire said Henry's conviction relied upon only a confession, which she claims was gathered in unethical circumstances.

She said police didn't follow leads which could have shown Henry had an alibi for the crime and there was no forensic evidence relied on in court.

According to Ms McQuire, race has been the defining feature of this case.

"The victim was an Aboriginal woman and the alleged perpetrator was an Aboriginal man," she said.

"People literally don't care about the lives of Aboriginal women and Aboriginal men.

"I think there's racism around now, but it was very, very outwardly racist back then."

Toonooba House, the rehabilitation centre Linda was linked to, was considered an "intrinsically violent place" by the city's white population.

Ms McQuire said it had been the target of several white vigilante attacks and the murder was ultimately seen as "a black on black crime" which didn't concern the general community.

"I think if the victim was white and the alleged perpetrator was black we'd probably still be talking about it," she said.

"But because the lives of Aboriginal women are so undervalued and ... Aboriginal men are just seen as these violent creatures.

"That's the way the media and the public portray them.

"I think people just didn't care. The thing is we've been trying really hard to get this story out there, but we're finding it very hard because people still don't care.

"This is an Aboriginal man who's been locked up for 25 years for something he didn't do."

While freeing Henry is the focus of the campaign and podcast, Ms McQuire said honouring Linda was equally important.

She said the criminal justice system had failed Linda and her family, who still didn't have much information about her fate.

Add to this that Linda's brother was a death in custody victim and she said the family had gone through much trauma with the justice system.

"I just couldn't stand the fact an Aboriginal man has been locked up for 25 years for a crime he didn't commit and I couldn't stand the fact that Linda's family has had this enduring injustice and it's going to continue hurting them more," Ms McQuire said.

Listen to the podcast at curtainthepodcast. or subscribe through iTunes.

This is the first in a series of Morning Bulletin reports on the Kevin Henry case.

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