From Michael Brull at the Overland blog, detailing a judge’s decision to give lenient sentences to five young men in the Northern Territory – Scott Doody, Timothy Hird, Joshua Spears, Anton Kloeden, and Glen Swain – who after a drinking spree drove along the Todd River creek-bed deliberately terrorising Aboriginal people sleeping in camps there, and who then beat one of those terrorised people, a young man named Kwementyaye Ryder, to death after he threw a bottle at their car:
Those are the facts. Justice Martin then had the task of interpreting them. He concluded that this ‘crime is toward the lower end of the scale of seriousness for crimes of manslaughter’. Not enough violence was inflicted, and the defendants supposedly could not have foreseen a serious risk of death from their violent attack. Repeatedly kicking someone in the head and hitting him with a bottle and then fleeing when the victim was motionless is apparently not recklessness, but negligence to Justice Martin.
Justice Martin then considered the possible value of inflicting a heavier sentence for deterrence value. He dismissed this too. His grounds for this are particularly striking: the violence ‘arose out of an angry and aggressive reaction to a perceived insult’. Plainly, there could be no value in deterrence with a mere crime of violence perpetrated by intoxicated youths responding to a perceived insult.
What didn’t feature in his discussion of deterrence was what he acknowledged repeatedly was the ‘atmosphere of antagonism towards Aboriginal persons’ manifested by the defendants. Nor was this mentioned as an aggravating feature. Which goes much of the way towards explaining his lenient sentencing: Doody, who did not physically strike Ryder, was sentenced to four years imprisonment to be suspended after 12 months. Hird, Kloeden and Spears were sentenced to six years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 4 years. Swain had half a year taken off both measures, on account of his confession.
Yet there is one other factor which played a crucial role in Justice Martin’s sentencing, and is arguably the most appalling part of his decision. Justice Martin went out of his way to provide character references for every single defendant. Doody is ‘a person of positive good character’. Hird is a ‘solid, hard-working young man of good character’. Kloeden has an ‘underlying good character’. Spears is a ‘person of very good character’. Swain, like Kloeden, was a ‘person of underlying good character’. These men of good character repeatedly terrorised Aboriginal people for being Aboriginal, before getting a gun to terrorise them further, ending the night by beating a man to death, and then casually driving away without checking if their victim was okay.
Like Michael Brull, I too am ashamed to live in a country where not only can a judge think it’s acceptable to decide that this ‘crime is toward the lower end of the scale of seriousness for crimes of manslaughter’ – but that our media doesn’t even pick up on it at all – how did I never hear of this death when it happened in July last year? These men should have been convicted of aggravated manslaughter at the very least. Shame on them, and more shame on Justice Martin, whose inexcusable leniency sends a signal to other young men in the area that it’s still just fine to terrorise and kill indigenous people any time they feel like it.