A newly re-examined photo of Robin Bain's hand could vindicate his son David from killing his whole family, and help him get compensation for the 13 years he spent in prison.
In 1995 David Bain was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his mother, father, two sisters and brother the previous year. After an unsuccessful appeal, the Privy Council in 2007 quashed David's convictions and in 2009 a retrial found him not guilty, after he had already spent 13 years in prison. David applied for compensation, but Justice Minister Judith Collins found the compensation report to be flawed. For David to get compensation, it needs to be proven that he is factually innocent of the murders.
But now a new clue could help prove that his father Robin was the killer.
Waikato businessman David Giles has told 3rd Degree how he came across a crime scene photo of Robin's hand online, and noticed some little marks on his thumb and forefinger.
"What struck me was the marks that were on Robin Bain’s thumb and forefinger," he said. "We’ve got this rubbing mark here, and these twin parallel lines here. These are marks that are associated with loading the gun and handling the magazine.”
The gun used to kill the Bain family was a .22 Winchester 490 semi-automatic rifle.
Mr Giles recognised the marks from having used a similar gun growing up on a farm.
"I had a five shot magazine, and I can remember getting marks like that on my hands when I loaded bullets and handled the magazine."
What the experts said
Mr Giles then got in touch with Joe Karam, David Bain's key supporter, who showed the marks on Robin's thumb to gun shop owner Richard Munt.
"They looked awfully like the magazine marks from people loading or unloading all sorts of firearms magazines," Mr Munt said.
After some consideration, Mr Munt was sure the marks were from loading a gun magazine.
"Because they were parallel, and when I looked at the photos later, then did some measurements, they were bang on the size of a .22 calibre magazine."
Next the photos were taken to expert gunsmith Robbie Tiffen, who has worked for the New Zealand Army and the United Nations advising on weaponry.
He was convinced that the marks were from a magazine marking.
"My opinion is the magazine was loaded, and Robin Bain then shot himself and that's the end of that. So the markings have remained."
Firstly, he said the marks are on the correct fingers which one would use to load a cartridge. Secondly, the grey marks are the right colour for firing residue. Thirdly, the distance between the two parallel markings is the same distance as the width of a magazine. Lastly, he said if the firing residue was still there, the gun must have recently been fired, as "carbon firing residue only stays on your hands for a limited amount of time before touching or handling something" - in other words, it rubs off easily.
David's defence team then went to specialist scientific photographer Peter Durrant to get the photo further analysed.
"All I can say is that those marks on there are quite consistent with somebody loading bullets into a clip like that," Mr Durrant said. "When the bullets have been fired from the clip, there's powder residue. That's very obvious. That being the case, it's very, very easy to transfer that residue from the magazine to, in this case, the edge of Robin's thumb."
Mr Durrant did not know of anything else that would have caused those sorts of markings.
"If there's anything else out there that can cause that kind of thing, I haven't seen it."
What the tests showed
Mr Karam and his team then decided to get the actual gun which killed the Bain family, and test it to see if they could replicate the marks.
Under supervision of a police detective and a Crown forensic scientist, the gun was tested by gun expert Mr Tiffen.
He found it continually jammed and misfired, which was consistent with the 19 bullets which were found around the Bain house after the killings.
A five-shot magazine and a 10-shot magazine were found along with the gun, which meant the killer would have had to load both magazines, and reload at least one of them to fire 19 shots.
"We did tests with both [magazines], and both of them caused these marks on the thumb… to leave powder residue marks, very, very similar to the marks that you can see on Robin's thumb," Mr Tiffen said.
How was this detail missed in the original investigation and trials?
"Probably nobody ever put the two things together, and it's been looked at so many times, couldn't see the wood for the trees," photo expert Mr Durrant said.
The forensics team working on the crime scene also failed to put plastic bags over Robin's hands, so gun residue may have rubbed off before the body got to the forensics laboratory.
The question now is whether this new information could help David get compensation for his 13 years in prison.
- Reporter: Melanie Reid
- Producer: Keith Slater
- Editor: Paul Enticott
- Camera: George Murahidy