Russell Packer sentence too harsh, judge says

CHRIS BARCLAY IN SYDNEY
Last updated 19:51 11/04/2014
Russell Packer
Fairfax Australia
LEAGUE RETURN: Jailed former Warriors prop Russell Packer has been linked with the Newcastle Knights, Brisbane Broncos and Penrith Panthers.

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Disgraced former New Zealand Warriors prop Russell Packer potentially faces less time behind bars after successfully appealing the severity of his two-year sentence for a vicious assault today.

However, the prospect of deportation once released remains.

Packer originally received a fixed term of imprisonment after he admitted assaulting ex-pat New Zealander Enoka Time after being ejected from a hotel in the Sydney CBD in the early hours of November 23 last year.

The 24-year-old then appealed the severity of the sentence. 

Despite labelling Packer's actions as  "cowardly and reprehensible" - and a stomp on his motionless victim's face as akin to an attempted "execution" - Judge Chris Hoy included a non-parole period when reviewing the punishment.

Hoy acknowledged the father of two's remorse, difficult upbringing and capacity for rehabilitation before deciding Packer would now be eligible for parole on January 5, 2015 - a possible 12 month reduction of his sentence.

He agreed the penalty imposed by Magistrate Greg Grogin on January 6 was too severe and said Packer deserved an opportunity to continue his rehabilitation to address long-standing issues with alcohol in a residential programme presuming he considered worthy of parole.

Serving a 12-month sentence typically leads to deportation because the Department of Immigration and Border Security cancels the holder's special category visa - a rite of passage for New Zealander's living in Australia.

But Judge Hoy hoped Packer would be able to continue an intensive rehabilitation programme initiated before he was jailed and challenged him to become a role model.

Packer's lawyer Greg James QC had successfully argued for a 12-month custodial sentence also admitted his client's behaviour was "appalling" but noted a range of health professionals were confident he was capable of making a trouble-free return to society.

"They're firmly of the the view that is the case, I'm not disagreeing," James told media outside the Downing Centre Local Court.

"He's working very, very hard in custody to do the very best he can to make sure that this sort of thing never happens again."

James would not be drawn on Packer's likely immigration status once he was released.

"The judge has made his recommendations. I've got no doubt the Minister (of Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison) will take that into account if the minister is minded to do anything."

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Packer smiled and waved at family members including his wife Lara when he entered the dock, and sat passively as Hoy detailed the assault, the culture of alcohol abuse he encountered when growing up in Levin and his steps to start a new life at the Newcastle Knights this season.

Hoy noted how Packer was encouraged to consume alcohol as a child, using the consumption of "18 cans per session as a 12-year-old" as an example and how that binge drinking continued once he moved to Auckland and joined the Warriors.

He credited Packer - an apparent contender for Dux in his final year at high school - for managing to develop a successful football career despite his "alcohol use disorder".

In his summation, Hoy revealed that Packer had descended into a "dark and self-destructive place" in 2013 and then sought a release from the Warriors to start afresh at the Knights.

Unfortunately, Hoy said, Packer linked up with old friends on the night he punched Time to the ground and then stamped on the 22-year-old's face before leaving the scene. Fortunately Time made a full recovery.

Packer surrendered to Newcastle police soon after and pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity - another factor in his favour while the judge considered a number of character references, including one from Knights coach Wayne Bennett.

Packer's wife Lara, his partner of six years, also outlined her husband's long-term struggles in an written submission tendered to the court.

"Everybody associated with the family has a great deal of sympathy for Lara, the children and his parents. They've undergone a very trying time," James said.

He added Packer hoped to eventually resume his top flight rugby league career, though that scenario cannot play out if he is deported.

The NRL distanced themselves from Packer when refusing to register his Knights contract after he had been charged by police; Newcastle management were initially supportive of their marquee recruit for 2014 but terminated his deal six days after he was jailed.

Meanwhile, news of Packer's potential for parole quickly spread among his former teammates.

Warriors' halfback Shaun Johnson tweeted: "Stoked for Russ and his family" soon after the hearing concluded.

- Fairfax Media

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