Finally free to tell my story

There's a much loved shoebox that David Bain keeps close by his side. It's taped together and replaces one that fell apart - a testament to the number of times over the past 15 years it's been opened and pored over.

Inside are the 37-year-old's most treasured belongings - the only pictures he has of his parents and three siblings, personal letters and cards from his family, and letters of support from complete strangers.

For 15 years he has said little to the media but is now giving his first-ever full interview, to New Idea, to share who David Bain really is.

Just weeks after he was found not guilty of the murders of his parents and three siblings, David spent time with New Idea. Over several days he spoke of the happy times his family shared before that fateful morning of June 20, 1994, how as a prisoner he would plummet into depression when bids for freedom were denied, and how the support of New Zealanders gave him the strength to carry on.

The picture he paints of his family is a far cry from the turbulent one that filled much of the court evidence. And when David thinks of his family it's the happier times he remembers, not the gruesome scenes shown to the jury.

'Mum and Dad would kick you out of the house [saying], "Go play, go chase the dog down the street,",' David recalls, flicking through his photos as he talks of his 15 years growing up in Papua New Guinea.

'There was always something exciting. It was a big playground for us. We grew up running around in shorts, T-shirts and bare feet. It was a great lifestyle, and I loved it.'

His parents Robin and Margaret Bain were missionary teachers in the tiny Pacific nation. The family lived in a secure compound and weekends were filled with beach trips, church events and picnics.

'I remember enjoying fruits and vegetables; you'd get watermelons the size of two footballs, deep red juicy things,' he says.

That freedom was a stark contrast to days, weeks, months and years spent in prison after David was accused of murdering his family.

Initially police suspected 58-year-old Robin of murder-suicide after Margaret, 50, and David's siblings Arawa, 19, Laniet, 18, and Stephen, 14, were found shot dead in the family home.

Four days later, the nation was shocked to discover David had been charged with murder. This would result in the trial of the century.

Life was just beginning for David. He'd started his arts degree at Dunedin University studying classics and English literature - a prerequisite for drama, a career the budding operatic singer was passionate to pursue. And he was in love.

Life choices

'I had a girlfriend. We had a special relationship. I was realising my dreams of performing in shows,' David says. 'During my school years I was pretty closed and unsure about myself, but through a two-year period prior to going back to university I found out what it was that I wanted to do with my life.

'These life choices that I'd embarked upon had suddenly been wiped altogether.'

He was placed in remand at Dunedin Prison where he was on suicide watch, checked every 15 minutes for 12 months before a jury eventually found him guilty on five counts of murder in May 1995. David wailed in horror and disbelief when the first verdict was read.

'I don't remember hearing the word "guilty" again after the first verdict. Everything just shut down, the enormity of it was just too much,' he says. 'I don't actually remember even leaving the courtroom.

'I also felt that at the first trial everything would be explained, I'd be exonerated and I'd get on with my life.'

The 'naive' 22-year-old had a breakdown.

'[My emotional state] ranged from bouts of hysteria and panic to almost a zombie-like state,' says David, who couldn't eat and barely slept for the first two months after the verdict. 'I was diagnosed as being clinically depressed.'

Emotional peaks and troughs would plague David throughout the almost 13 years he would remain behind bars. Lawyers, and then his tireless campaigner Joe Karam, worked on appeal after appeal - David's hopes crushed as each case was dismissed.

'I likened it to building a jigsaw then somebody coming along and kicking it all apart,' says David, who's always maintained his innocence. 'I had to rebuild my self- esteem, my emotional basis from which to start to cope with life in prison.'

David had eight years of counselling. He also received help from close friends.

'I kept asking myself, "Why on earth am I in prison when it's so self explanatory, I shouldn't be here?" At the start I had faith in the system thinking it would do the right thing. It didn't. It betrayed me. It left me totally disillusioned,' he explains.

To preoccupy himself between each appeal, David became immersed in prison work, gained a degree in engineering, and personally replied to the thousands of cards and letters he received from supporters.

He focused on getting through short stints rather than looking too far ahead.

When the doors locked at 8.30pm sharp on David's first night in Christchurch Men's Prison, he never would have imagined it would be 13 years before he would walk outside those jail doors and into the world.

For a man who loved the outdoors and his friends, it's no surprise David now spends every moment relishing his freedom.

'I'm not going to sit at home moping and feeling depressed for the rest of my life,' he says. 'I've got to get on and find something out there that keeps me going forward.'

Riding Boysie, his beloved horse, is his ultimate indulgence. Three nights a week and every weekend David drives to the west coast of Auckland to be with the chestnut thoroughbred. He loves galloping along the rugged beaches and trekking through forest.

'You feel you've had a blast of fresh oxygen into your system,' David says. 'You lose the tension of your daily world and you get right down to the basics of your relationship with the horse. There's this bond I've created with Boysie. It's very special.'

As the date for his retrial loomed - March 6, 2009 - the thought of losing his freedom and his much-loved horse, made these precious moments even more unique.

'I didn't know what would become of Boysie. I wondered, "Should I give him away to friends?" I felt like I could never plan for anything.'

Now pictures of Boysie fill his hard drive if not his shoebox, and David can plan which pictures to frame on his bedroom wall, rather than his cell.

More Lifestyle News

Daily horoscopes