Introduction and Facts
Tony McLernon was jailed for life on 6th March 2013 for the murder of his ex-fiancee (who was 9 months pregnant at the time with his child). He was convicted of murder and child destruction by a jury. The minimum term was set at 27 years.
Following a background of domsetic abuse on Ms Blunnie and another former partner, which included direct threats on Ms Blunnie’s life. On the 27th June 2012, Mr McLernon lured Ms Blunnie to ‘a relatively deserted place’ where he beat her to death. During the attack he “jumped up and down on, and delivered heavy kicks to, the upper body and particularly the head of” Ms Blunnie.
Despite medical intervention, it was not possible to save either Ms Blunnie or her unborn child.
Is he guilty of murdering the unborn child as well?
No. Under s1 Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 “any person who, with intent to destroy the life of a child capable of being born alive, by any wilful act causes a child to die before it has an existence independent of its mother, shall be guilty … of child destruction“. This means that he cannot be guilty of murder as a foetus is not a person for the purpose of the law of murder (Attorney-General’s Reference (No 2 of 1994)).
The maximum sentence is life imprisonment (note that this is not a mandatory life sentence like murder – a Judge can pass any sentence that he or she feels is appropriate).
Is the sentence right?
Here we have the sentencing remarks of Fulford J (it has to be said that he appears to be very good at ensuring his remarks are published).
The starting point would appear to be 15 years (aggravated by the element of planning, the previous abuse and, most importantly, the need to sentence for Child Destruction also). Interestingly, the Judge said “This was, in essence, a double murder. Whatever the formal position, the child was so close to being born that to treat this case in any other way would be a travesty.”
This then would trigger a starting point of 30 years. Unfortunately it is not clear what the starting point was and what allowances were made for the aggravating and mitigating features. We would tentatively suggest that the Judge took the 30 year starting point and reduced it by 5 years or so to reflect there was only one murder, before increasing it by a couple of years to reflect the other factors.
It seems likely that there will be an appeal, not least to resolve the issue of principle identified by the Judge as to the correct starting point. We would suggest that the sentence seems to be high, perhaps too high, and that it should be treated as an ‘aggravated 15 year case’ with a tariff in the region of 20-22 years to take account of the Child Destruction and other aggravating features.
As always, it must be remembered that the 27 year period is the minimum period that must be spent in prison. Mr McLernon will not be released before 27 years and will only be released if the Parole Board feels that it is safe to do so.