• Kevin 'Curtain' Henry was charged with murder in 1991. (Supplied)
A woman's body is found on a river bank and a young Aboriginal man is convicted of her murder. For 25 years, he's been behind bars, and for 25 years, he's maintained his innocence. Now a new investigation is re-examining the evidence, and asking - did police get it wrong?
By
Ella Archibald-Binge

15 May 2017 - 2:46 PM  UPDATED 17 May 2017 - 6:14 PM

"This place is a redneck town," says Kevin Henry's aunty Arwa Waterton.

"(I) always say there's two sets of laws - one for the black, one for the white. This young boy was illiterate, couldn't read or write, and he was drinking over a couple of days, and they took advantage of that." 

In September, 1991, the body of a 36-year-old Aboriginal woman was found on the banks of the Fitzroy River in Rockhampton.

For cultural reasons, she's known only as Lynda.  

"I said nah, this boy is innocent. He would never ever do this... I knew that he was set up from the beginning." 

Within a week Kevin Henry, a then 21-year-old Goreng Goreng man from Woorabinda, was charged with her rape and murder. 

It's a day aunty Arwa will never forget.  

"I got a phone call saying 'turn the news on, and go and get the papers, Kevin's been charged with murder'," Arwa recalls.

"I said nah, this boy is innocent. He would never ever do this... I knew that he was set up from the beginning." 

Arwa lived next door to Kevin, also known as Curtain, while he was growing up in Woorabinda, an Aboriginal community two hours' drive from Rockhampton.

"Very gentle, very humble and very, very respectful - that's what Kevin was all about. In my eyes and to the community, he would never harm anybody in his life."

Arwa says watching Kevin being taken away in handcuffs broke her heart: "I said we gotta do something. Something's gotta be done." 

The family turned to activist Yasmin Johnson, who took on the role of Kevin's legal advocate. 

Yasmin believes the justice system has let the family down. 

"It's very sad this case, because they're out at Woorabinda, they don't have access to coming into town, they don't have the support to talk to lawyers. They're stuck out in a remote community nearly three hours away," she says.

 

For nearly two decades, Yasmin has campaigned for Kevin's release. Last year, her efforts caught the attention of journalist Amy McQuire, a Darumbul woman who grew up in Rockhampton. 

Amy enlisted the help of lawyer Martin Hodgson, a senior advocate for the Foreign Prisoner Support Service, to re-examine the case of Kevin Henry, broadcasting their investigation through a now world-famous podcast, Curtain

"Just really doesn't make sense at all. For one, Kevin was a very small person, no one saw him, he had no mud on his clothes, no blood on his clothes."

Together, they've retraced and re-evaluated the evidence to piece together what happened to Lynda on that fateful day 26 years ago. 

What happened on August 31, 1991?  

Lynda, who suffered schizophrenia, was originally from South Australia, but for unknown reasons in August 1991 she found herself at what was then called Toonooba House, a rehabilitation centre for Indigenous people, situated on the banks of the Fitzroy River. 

It was there, on her last day alive, that Lynda was brutally assaulted by a group of women, who were later convicted for grievous bodily harm. 

Using witness statements and other evidence submitted in court, Amy describes what happened:

"It went on for about an hour, and it stopped and started, and it was a really, really horrendous assault around this area witnessed by about 35 people at the time. And Kevin had no role in that assault at all - it was only the three women." 

Lynda was left lying on the ground, and that's where police say Kevin found her.  

"Police allege that Kevin dragged her... into the grass, where the motive was to rape her and then somehow after that, put her in the river," Amy says.

"And that just really doesn't make sense at all. For one, Kevin was a very small person, no one saw him, he had no mud on his clothes, no blood on his clothes. And any fisherman or anyone who knows this river will tell you, as soon as you get in those banks, you are waist deep in mud. There's crocodiles, it's crocodile infested - no Murri would go there in the middle of the night."

READ MORE:
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A rally in Rockhampton has called for the immediate release of an Aboriginal man who says he's been wrongfully imprisoned for 25 years.
The Curtain Podcast - exploring justice for Aboriginal people
A powerful podcast series from acclaimed Aboriginal journalist Amy McQuire and Senior Advocate for Foreign Prisoner Support Service, Martin Hodgson is taking a very in-depth look at the case of Kevin 'Curtain' Henry.

Lynda's body was found around two kilometres further up the river, on the opposite bank to Toonooba House.

Amy and lawyer Martin Hodgson have examined the tidal records from the night Lynda died, which show a very strong tide. They claim it would've been virtually impossible for her body to have crossed the river, as police suggest. 

With no supporting DNA or forensic evidence, the prosecution case relied heavily on a so-called confession from Kevin, a portion of which was thrown out at trial after the judge ruled it involuntary.  

Kevin later claimed the confession was coerced. 

Before, during, and after Kevin's trial, it's alleged police received a number of tip-offs that were never followed up.

'One law for the black, one for the white'

Kevin Henry was 22 when he went to prison. This month marked his 47th birthday. 

His family have never accepted the verdict. Lynda's family, too, believe police got it wrong, saying in a statement: 

"Our family have always felt that Kevin Henry was innocent. We know this because our family have experienced how the justice system treats Aboriginal people."

"The system robbed his life - he can't have a baby, get married - he's got nothing, they robbed him. "

According to Amy McQuire, the system has failed both Kevin and Lynda. 

"This isn't just about Kevin Henry, it's also about the victim, Lynda, and she came form a large Aboriginal family down in South Australia."

"And because Kevin Henry was picked up and he's innocent, there's been an enduring injustice around Lynda. And her life, the life of a strong Aboriginal woman, is worth so much more." 

All avenues for appeal have already been exhausted, but supporters are calling for Kevin's immediate release on parole, with a full pardon.  

He's been up for parole a number of times over the past decade, but each of those applications have been rejected for different reasons.  

"The system robbed his life. They took away everything from him. They took his innocence," says Aunty Arwa.

"This poor little fella has gone to jail knowing he can't have a baby, get married - he's got nothing, they robbed him.  

"We're not gonna go away, because you're not gonna shut us up - we'll keep fighting and fighting until we get justice for Kevin." 

The decision to grant an official pardon lies with Queensland's Attorney-General and Governor.  

In a statement to NITV, the Queensland Police Service says the investigation has been finalised, and there are "no plans to reopen the case".