Tag Archives: Starting points

Mohammud Yusuf – 25-year minimum term for sexual murder

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Mohammud Yusuf was today sentenced for murder.

Facts

On 18th October 2013 police were called to an address in Neasden after a carer had reported that one of the women she looked after had been attacked. Amoe Stevens was taken to hospital but died shortly afterwards of her injuries.

Her son in law, Mohammud Yusuf, was quickly arrested. He lived with Ms Stevens daughter (Margaret) and their two children. It was alleged that after Margaret had left the house, Mr Yusuf attacked her mother – it seems that this was not the first occasion that this had happened.

The prosecution stated that there was a sexual motive for this, and put forward evidence that Mr Yusuf had an ‘obsession with violent pornography’ and his mobile phone had ‘searches for pornographic videos showing violent rape, gang rape and incest’.

Conviction

On 2nd June 2014 Mr Yusuf was unanimously convicted of murder. Sentence was adjourned until Friday 6 June..

Judge’s comments

The Judge made various comments about the gravity of the offence – “This lady suffered the most agonising death imaginable … I have never come across such a factual background of a case like this”,

Sentence

As well you know by now, there is only one sentence for murder – mandatory life. The question facing the Judge was how long was the tariff going to be?

Our factsheet on murder sentencing is here.

We don’t have the Judge’s sentencing remarks (yet) but it was thought that this may well be considered to be a murder ‘involving sexual or sadistic conduct‘, which would give a starting point of 30 years. From there, the Judge would have to consider whether to move up or down (or both) to reflect the aggravation and mitigation.

In the event, the Judge imposed a 25-year minimum term. There was no discount for a guilty plea, which in murder cases is limited to 1/6 or 5 years.

We are unaware of the exact facts – and the extent of the injuries – and so making an assessment of the length of minimum term is difficult.

What we are able to say though, however, is that whether the Judge selected a 30-year minimum term (based on sexual conduct – which seems likely) or a 15-year term (having decided that the higher starting point didn’t apply, it is the eventual total that matters.

Moving down from 30 to reflect mitigation, or moving up from 15 to reflect aggravation is simply two routes to the same end; the correct sentence.

As we have said, we are unsure as to whether this is too short so we will wait for the sentencing remarks to see how the Judge arrived at the 25-year figure.

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BBC seek to explain murder sentences…but get the law a bit wrong

This morning, 11 December 2013, the BBC News website published an article by Jon Kelly seeking to explain the reason why three men convicted of murder received mandatory life sentences with wildly different minimum terms.

The three cases

Lee James: 18 years

Rakesh Bhayani: 27 years

Anxiang Du: 40 years

We are of course wholly in favour of greater public legal education, particularly the explanation of criminal cases featuring in the news (indeed, we have been doing it for over a year). This piece provides a good, brief, explanation of each of the sentencing decisions, with a couple of comments from two esteemed practitioners and an esteemed academic.

As a part of the article, Jon Kelly sought to explain how the starting points for the calculation of minimum terms in murder cases are calculated (while we’re at it, here is our fact sheet).

Getting the law a bit wrong

The problem is, Jon Kelly gets the law slightly wrong. Here, he states that the starting points for life apply to offenders aged 21+

 BBC Sch 21

There are three problems.

The starting points – who do they apply to?

Firstly, the Sch 21 starting points apply only to murder convictions. Jon states they apply ‘to life’. There are four types of life sentence available to the courts in England and Wales. These starting points only apply to mandatory life sentences imposed for murder.

Secondly, the starting points differ depending on the age of the offender. The correct explanation is as follows:

Whole life: Only available for those 21+

30 years: Available for those 18+

25 years: Available for those 18+

15 years: Available for those 18+

12 years: The only starting point for offenders aged under 18

[See Criminal Justice Act 2003 Sch 21 paras 4, 5, 5A, 6 and 7] The explanation as to which starting point applies to which case (e.g. bringing  a knife or other weapon to the scene, 25 years) was correct.

And thirdly, that he fails to state that the offender’s age is at the time of the offence, not conviction or sentence.

In a post seeking to explain the law, getting the law wrong is not a great start (though we applaud the desire to improve public understanding).

For the future, if the BBC wanted to have such articles etc. checked pre-publication, we would be more than willing to do so. Just drop us an email. What a service!

Mum and stepdad convicted of murder of 4 year old Daniel Pelka

Daniel Pelka

Image from BBC News.

Magdelena Luczak and her partner Mariusz Krezolek were convicted of murder, having previously admitted cruelty to a child. The victim was Luczak’s son, 4 year old Daniel Pelka.

The couple came to Britain in 2006 from Poland. It was alleged that they worked as a team to systematically starve Daniel to death. During the trial, his condition was likened to that of a concentration camp victim by a doctor.

BBC News reports are here, here and here.

Starved

Her case was that she cared for Daniel in the mornings and gave him breakfast. Krezolek cared for him in the afternoons and initially gave him smaller portions to discipline him, but later stopped feeding him all together. Daniel lost a lot of weight over the school holidays and this was noticed by teachers at school.

The prosecution alleged that Daniel was forced to steal food from school and that there were text messages from Luczak to Krezolek discussing bribing Daniel with food to keep quiet about being beaten. Luczak admitted bribing him. She also admitted prohibiting Daniel’s school teacher from giving him food; she said this was to protect him from Krezolek, the inference being that he would be violent if he found out.

It was also alleged that Krezolek fed Daniel salt and water so that he was sick and brought up the food he had eaten at school before his body could gain proper nourishment from it,

Beaten

Luczak denied assaulting Daniel but admitted that she should have done more to protect him as she ‘knew what was really going on at home’.

When asked why she had not taken Daniel to the doctors, she replied “Because Daniel would always have a lot of bruises.

“I tried to make it secret, what was happening to him. That is why I didn’t go to the doctor.”

When asked why, she said “It wasn’t me, it was [Krezolek] but I knew what was happening. I myself don’t understand my actions. I must have loved [Krezolek] to allow such a thing.”

Daniel died in hospital of severe head injuries on 3 March 2012.

Trial

Both denied murder but were convicted on 31 July 2013.

Both Luczak and Krezolek ran defences which blamed each other; Luczak said that Krezolek would not let her feed Daniel and maintained that she had tried to protect Daniel from Krezolek, who was abusive.

Krezolek said in evidence that Luczak stopped him calling an ambulance after Daniel fell because she was concerned social services would notice his bruises.

He said the boy had lost consciousness while Luczak was getting him ready for a bath and Daniel was left for 24-26 hours after his fall before he was seen by a paramedic.

Daniel’s death is- the subject of a serious case review by Coventry’s Safeguarding Children Board.

Sentence

Here is our guide to sentencing in murder cases.

The life sentence is mandatory for those convicted of murder. But the Judge has to set the minimum term to be spent in prison before the pair are eligible for release.

A whole life tariff is normally the starting point in cases the case of the murder of a child if involving sadistic motivation. Now arguably starving and beating the Daniel to death could constitute sadistic motivation, however it seems unlikely that the court would construe this case as one which is appropriate for a whole life order.

This highlights the fallibility of the ‘starting points’ system in the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

This case has no features which would fall into either the 30 year or 25 year starting points. So, the starting point would seem to be 15 years, which is a lifetime away from the whole life order that appeared to be hanging in the balance just a few moments ago.

The court then has to consider the aggravating and mitigating factors. The prolonged, wilful and no doubt painful nature of Daniel’s treatment and his subsequent death, and the abuse of trust are certainly going to result in an upward adjustment from the 15 year figure.

The question is simply ‘by how much?’

We will return to the case when the pair are sentenced on Friday 2 August.

17 year minimum term for beating her 7-year-old son to death – is it long enough?

Sara Ege court case

Sara Ege, aged 33, was found guilty of murder and perverting the course of justice.

Facts

The factual background is quite complex; news reports from various different sources give a good understanding of the course of events (Guardian, BBC, Huffington Post)

In brief, Ege had beaten her son, Yaseen, to death. Over a prolonged period, Yaseen was beaten on a regular basis after failing in Koran studies. Teachers at his school noticed his injuries and that he was having to write with his other hand as it was too painful to write with his usual hand. Ege moved Yaseen to another school. Yaseen died in July 2010 after months of beatings.

Ege then attempted to burn Yaseem’s body in an attempt, as the Judge found, to evade liability for beating him to death.

Sara Ege

She told police she was “getting angry too much”, adding: “I would shout at Yaseen all the time. I was getting very wild and I hit Yaseen with a stick on his back like a dog.”

She forced him to drink milk; and when she went back to him he was shaking and shivering. She did not seek medical help and the boy died. The woman then used barbecue lighting gel to set fire to his body.

The Judge found that she was a good mother in some areas and had suffered bouts of depression due to a number of factors.

It was also accepted that Sara Ege had been the victim of prolonged domestic violence.

Judge’s remarks

From the Huffington Post:

“There is a further aggravating feature and that is that you attempted to burn Yaseen’s body. There can be no doubt that you set fire to his body in an attempt to evade the consequences of what you had done.”

He added: “What was your motive for acting as you did? I am satisfied that, on the day of his death, Yaseen was kept home from school so that he could dedicate himself to his (Koran) studies.

“On that day Yaseen must have failed in some way because I am satisfied that it was that failure which was the trigger for the beating.

The sentence

The Judge imposed the mandatory life sentence with a minimum term of 17 years.

An explanation of the starting points for murder can be seen here.

There has been a discussion on Twitter as to whether the starting point ought to have been 30 years as a result of the perceived ‘religious motivation’. As the sentencing remarks are unavailable, and the press reports have (as usual) missed out numerous important elements from the sentencing hearing, we are left to figure it out for ourselves.

One view is that, whether the starting point is 30 years or 15 years, the result should be the same: if it is 30 years, it will be reduced to take account of the mitigation such as Ege’s depression. If it is 15 years, it will be increased to take account of the prolonged cruelty inflicted to Yaseem. Many are of the opinion that the starting points are merely political devices to enable the Government to look tough on crime.

My view is that it would be difficult to justify a 30 year starting point on the basis that it was a religiously motivated murder. As the factual background appears to be complex (although we don’t seem to have all of the facts) a far easier route to determining sentence would be to start at 15 years and add the aggravating factors on, taking account of the finding that the murder was committed due to Yaseem’s ‘failing in his studies of the Koran’.

17 years does appear low when the aggravating features seem numerous; the statutory aggravating factors appear to be: Yaseem was vulnerable because of his age, Sara Ege was in a position of trust as his mother, Yaseem suffered physical (and potentially mental) harm before his death, the attempted concealment of the cause of death. In addition, other aggravating features appear to be the prolonged period of time over which the abuse was inflicted upon Yaseem, the lies told to the police and the

Mitigation seems to be the lack of intention to kill, the mental health issues, the fact she had suffered domestic violence for a prolonged period and lack of premeditation. Further, it would appear that the Judge found that motivation was related to Yaseem’s studies and so in some perverse way, Sara Ege thought she was acting his Yaseem’s best interests.

The 17-year sentence appears to me to be low. However, as is usually the case, there are no sentencing remarks and we only have the news reports to base our assumptions on. On those news reports, I would have expected a sentence in the low 20s, as, in spite of the mitigation, this was an appalling crime with shocking cruelty inflicted on a vulnerable and innocent young child.

Whether or not there will be an Attorney-General’s Reference (prosecution appeal against sentence) remains to be seen.