Charge/s: Murder, arson.
Appeal Type: Crown appeal against sentence.
Facts: The male respondent and the male deceased were in a relationship. The trial judge accepted that the deceased had a dominant and controlling personality while the victim was submissive and often demeaned and belittled by the deceased in public. On the morning of offence, the respondent rejected the deceased’s sexual approach and the deceased called him a ‘frigid bitch’. The respondent tried to apologise but the deceased repeated his abuse. The respondent snapped. He hit the deceased over the head with a steel pan and strangled him with a dog lead. The respondent acted if the deceased was alive for several days before setting fire to their home with the deceased’s body inside. He acted as if the deceased had died accidently until he was arrested.
At sentence, Dr Barth, a psychologist, provided evidence of the respondent’s psychological condition. He diagnosed the respondent as having a maladaptive personality adjustment and as suffering from pervasive feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and insecurity. The sentencing judge accepted that the respondent’s personality disorder played some role in his offending, and therefore operated to reduce his moral culpability and to moderate to some extent the need for general and specific deterrence. A total effective sentence of 18 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 13 years, was imposed.
Issue/s: One of the grounds of appeal was that the sentence was manifestly inadequate.
Decision and Reasoning: The appeal was dismissed.
In setting out the background to the matter the Court observed:
The deceased was the dominant partner in the relationship, with the respondent by and large acquiescing to the deceased’s directions. Over the term of the relationship there was regular verbal conflict which intensified with time. The respondent told his psychologist how he was abused and humiliated in front of others by the deceased. Sometimes the conflicts involved verbal abuse and sometimes pushing and shoving. He also told the psychologist that the deceased was sexually demanding of him and if he declined the deceased’s approaches he would call him a ‘frigid bitch’. The respondent said he felt as if the deceased treated him as his own property. Despite all this, the deceased was regarded by the respondent as being loving and affectionate towards him. 
The Court also quoted from the earlier sentencing judgment of the Supreme Court, for example:
27 The personalities of both the deceased and the respondent were considered by the judge. Her Honour said this:
Mr Rattle was strong, confident and successful. He also had a dominant, controlling personality; everything had to be done his way, both personally and professionally. No doubt that was part of the key to his professional success. And, because of your own psychological make-up, you felt inadequate; it suited you to be with someone who took control and made all the decisions. But many of your mutual friends have described how Mr Rattle used to demean and belittle you in public. He frequently complained to them that you were not satisfying him sexually. In front of others, he would call you lazy, a parasite; he would threaten to send you back to where you came from. He was critical of your lack of business acumen. There were financial and business pressures on the relationship. In the work context, he treated you like the office boy, not his partner.
The Court provided extensive consideration of the six circumstances identified in R v Verdins in which impaired mental functioning is considered relevant to the appropriate sentence to be passed on an offender (See - in particular). The Court rejected a purely mechanistic approach and they emphasised that careful consideration must be given to whether the evidence establishes that mental capacity has been impaired and which of the circumstances in Verdins are engaged. This requires rigorous evaluation of the evidence (See ). Here, the respondent did not establish on the balance of probabilities that he suffered from a mental impairment. As the principles in Verdins do not extend to personality disorders such as those relied upon, the relevant principles (in particular, the moderation of the need for general and specific deterrence, and the reduction of moral culpability) were not engaged (See ).
Nevertheless, the respondent’s mental condition was still of some relevance to sentence, it just did not attract the level of mitigation of sentence that must be allowed where Verdins principles are applicable. First, the sentencing judge did not err in accepting that the respondent’s personality disorder operated to moderate, to some extent, the need for general and specific deterrence. Second, the Court also held that on the evidence it was open to the sentencing judge to conclude that the murder of the deceased was not premeditated, vindictive or gratuitous but rather the result of a very complex and conflicted personality structure. In that way, the sentencing judge was correct in taking the respondent’s disorder into account in making an assessment of the moral culpability of the respondent (See -).
The appeal court noted that the sentence was mid-range in light of the trial judge’s rejection of the Crown’s characterisation of the crime as premeditated; the trial judge had noted that while the controlling and belittling behaviour that had characterised Rattle’s relationship with O’Neill did not justify killing him, it did mean that the sentence to be imposed for murder should be towards the lower end of the range for that offence.