New approach to compassionate release after rapist dies in jail

Murray Kannewischer. Photo: Rob Kidd
Murray Kannewischer. Photo: Rob Kidd
The case of a Dunedin rapist who died behind bars has prompted a change in protocol for terminally ill prisoners seeking compassionate release.

Murray Oscar Kannewischer (89) was jailed for eight years in 2017 for 20 years of sexual offending against six girls, some as young as 8, which started in 1963.

He was declined parole in July last year after refusing to accept his guilt and was due to see the board again this month.

However, he died in hospital in May “following a period of illness”, Corrections confirmed.

Documents showed Kannewischer made an application for compassionate release on health grounds less than a month before his death but was resoundingly knocked back by Parole Board chair Sir Ron Young.

“My function is to decide if there is evidence that could establish that Mr Kannewischer suffers from a serious illness from which he is unlikely to recover. The application . . . contains no medical information from a registered medical practitioner who is treating Mr Kannewischer as to what illnesses he suffers from, whether it is serious or not, nor whether Mr Kannewischer is likely or unlikely to recover from his illness,” he said.

Otago Corrections Facility director Lyndal Miles said the rapist had spent time in hospital from February and staff had assisted him with the application for release.

They applied for accommodation “through multiple providers” but had been unable to confirm an address.

Kannewischer’s case had been the catalyst for a new approach to compassionate release applications, said Miles.

“Corrections now ensures that all applications include a confirmed release address, and a clear summary of the prisoner’s diagnosis and prognosis, signed and dated by a medical doctor, on a single page,” she said.

Because of Kannewischer’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for his crimes, he was considered unsuitable for rehabilitation courses or psychological counselling while incarcerated.

Victims, before his 2020 parole hearing, were vehemently opposed to the man’s release.

Despite his age and the fact a psychological report classed Kannewischer as low risk, they worried he was still a legitimate threat to young girls.

At sentencing, before the Dunedin District Court, Judge Michael Crosbie said Kannewischer systematically targeted his victims.

‘‘You preyed on these defenceless young women when they were all at about the same stage of physical and emotional development,’’ he said.

‘‘Make no mistake, this is very grave offending.’’

Kannewischer’s death was referred to the coroner. 



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