Killer 'escapes' life-without-parole jail term
BLAIR ENSOR AND DAVID CLARKSON
Double child killer Jeremy George Edward McLaughlin has escaped being sentenced to life in prison without parole.
The Crown wanted him to be given the record sentence, but the High Court today chose to impose a 23-year non-parole term.
Justice Graham Panckhurst said McLaughlin was "on the brink" of becoming the first murderer in New Zealand to be jailed for the rest of his natural life.
The 35-year-old was found guilty at trial in April of strangling schoolgirl Jade Bayliss, 13, stealing items from her family's Barrington St, Christchurch, home and torching it in November 2011.
The jury did not know he had previously been convicted of killing Phillip Vidot, 14, in Perth years earlier.
Outside court, Jade's mother, Tina Bayliss, said: "I'd like to say how happy I am with Jeremy McLaughlin's sentence. I'd like to thank everyone involved for bringing justice to my daughter Jade Louise Bayliss.
"Jade will never be forgotten."
McLaughlin's aunt, Aurora Smith, said outside court that her nephew was innocent.
"This is a very sad day. The Bayliss family have not yet received completion and an innocent man has been sentenced for a murder he did not commit. Those that have done this to Jade and to Jeremy have taken on a spiritual burden," she said.
"Jeremy told the truth when he told the court he did not see Jade that day. Jeremy was repeatedly told he was telling lies of convenience. That is a great shame, because there are people who want to know the truth.
"I'm very disappointed that Jeremy thought for a moment that it was OK to do what he did to people's possessions. He is very sorry and disappointed in himself.
''I'm very disappointed that Jeremy allowed himself to be ... manipulated into the Bayliss home that day and hence to become the smokescreen and the scapegoat for this terrible thing.
"Jeremy is far from the person he has been portrayed. He has taken full responsibility for all that he has done and he cannot do more than that."
The case against McLaughlin was described as overwhelming at his sentencing by Justice Panckhurst, who said it was a brutal and senseless murder.
He said it was disturbing and chilling to see the efficient and emotionless way McLaughlin acted that day after he had taken Jade's life, and in his interview with the police.
McLaughlin continues to deny the murder of Jade, who he strangled when she disturbed him in the burglary of a former partner's home. He then set the house alight with petrol.
Justice Panckhurst said it was simply fatuous to claim that McLaughlin committed the burglary and arson of the house - charges he admitted - but did not commit the murder of the girl.
The judge believed from the evidence at trial that she disturbed him in the burglary and he then strangled her with a ligature and stuffed socks in her mouth before leaving her dead on the floor of her bedroom. He later set the house alight.
McLaughlin was then recorded on camera going about the business of selling items from the burglary. Soon after he left Westfield Riccarton, Jade's wallet was found under where a car had been parked in the car park.
McLaughlin's DNA was found in a sample taken from beneath the girl's fingernail.
Crown prosecutor Brent Stanaway said McLaughlin's life had a common theme of deflecting blame and responsibility.
The sentencing session heard details about the 1995 incident in Western Australia, where McLaughlin was convicted of manslaughter and causing grievous bodily harm.
Stanaway told the court: "The offender has now been involved in the killing of two young people. Individual deterrence and community protection are paramount considerations."
Defence counsel Margaret Sewell urged that a minimum non-parole term be imposed rather than life without parole.
She said a psychiatrist's report assessed him as a medium to high risk of future offending, but the psychological report assessed him as a high risk.
The material before the court indicated he felt that revenge on his former partner justified the burglary and arson of the house in Barrington St on November 10, 2011. It was likely that the murder was a chance encounter.
The trial in April was told that Jade was home ill from school that day.
McLaughlin had handed in a letter to the victim's family that he wanted to read out in court, but it was ruled out by Justice Panckhurst because it would not be appropriate because it still contained a denial of the murder.
"In my view, the letter is simply going to inflame the situation rather than effect anything in the nature of an apology."
Tina Bayliss said her daughter had been "the apple of my eye" and she had referred to her as her special friend.
She had been an exceptional pupil, one of Cashmere High School's top 20 pupils.
"I think of her every day."
Bayliss, who had previously been in a relationship with McLaughlin, said: "I blame myself every day ... all the ifs ... if only."
She had had suicidal thoughts and still felt pretty negative about most things in life.
She travelled to Australia to meet the families of the victims of McLaughlin's earlier offending. She came away with a sense of disbelief that someone could offend against three children and still show no remorse.
Jade's father, Gary Bayliss, said the loss of his daughter had "ripped me up inside" because she had been robbed of her whole future.
His own father was a shadow of his former self, and suffered from depression since the loss of Jade.
"We all love you and miss you Jade. You will be in our hearts and thoughts always," his victim-impact statement said.
Justice Panckhurst said McLaughlin was seen as being calm, polite and articulate on the surface, but the psychiatric reports described him as self-focused, vengeful and having a tendency to blame others. He did not have a psychiatric history, nor symptoms of mental illness.
Prospects for rehabilitation were low because of his continuing denials, said the judge.
Imposing the 23-year non-parole term as part of the life sentence, he said McLaughlin would be almost 60 when parole even became an option.
"Then the life sentence will still apply unless you satisfy the Parole Board that you no longer pose a risk to the community," he said.
A few people in the public gallery abused McLaughlin as he was led to the cells.
The Sensible Sentencing Trust today criticised the sentence imposed by Justice Panckhurst.
"If second-time killers - particularly where the victim is vulnerable - do not deserve life without parole, I wonder what does?" national spokesman Garth McVicar said.
"When McLauglin is eligible for parole, Jade Bayliss should have been a vibrant 36-year-old woman in the prime of her life. Her family will be denied all the enjoyment her life could have offered and instead they will be thrown into the stress and turmoil an offender-orientated parole system.
"The Crown must surely now appeal this decision to the Court of Appeal, whose judges can then, at the very least, give some guidance to the judges of the High Court as to what kind of case will warrant a sentence of life without parole."
MCLAUGHLIN HAD KILLED BEFORE
In April, the jury was not told that McLaughlin had been convicted of killing another child, Australian Phillip Vidot in Perth in November 1995, because the right to a fair trial prevents it.
Phillip, 14, and friend Tyron Williams had gone shopping with a friend, but never made it home. Instead, the pair were bashed with a cricket bat, run over by a car and then robbed.
Phillip died hours later while Tyron was in a coma for eight days and still has brain damage.
McLaughlin, Craig Brian Wood and another young man were charged over the attack. McLaughlin and Wood were charged with murder.
McLaughlin admitted wielding the cricket bat and Wood admitted running over the pair.
In a verdict two years later that sparked protest and calls for legislative change, the jury acquitted the pair of murder, but found them guilty of manslaughter.
The pair and the other young man, whose name was suppressed, were also found guilty of causing Tyron grievous bodily harm.
McLaughlin was sentenced to 12 years in jail. He was deported back to New Zealand in 2001.
New Zealand police were told the details of his manslaughter conviction in 2001.
Phillip's mother Marriya Vidot this afternoon told The Press she was relieved to hear McLaughlin had received a lengthy jail term. She struggled to sleep last night at her home in Perth ahead of the sentencing.
''I'm so relieved and happy for Tina and her family. It's not going to bring our kids back - he deserves everything that he's getting," Vidot said.
''I feel so sick in the stomach.
''I wish he[McLaughlin] rots in jail and never comes out because he has taken two innocent lives.''
Phillip's stepfather, Rene Vidot, said he believed McLaughlin should have been locked away for the rest of his natural life.
''He's a cold-blooded killer. He's a thrill killer. He doesn't value life, he doesn't value anything.
''He's the type of person who will probably re-offend.
''At the end of the day he needs a little bit of punishment to feel what pain is all about.''
Jolon Sweeney - convicted of helping McLaughlin try to cover up the burglary and arson of the Bayliss family home in Spreydon - has previously said McLaughlin bragged about having killed a teenager in Australia.
This afternoon Sweeney said he was disappointed McLaughlin did not receive a sentence of life without parole.
''It [the killing] is something I think about every day - I can't get it out of my head.
''People like [McLaughlin] should be put down like a rabid dog.
''He never learnt from the first time and if he gets out he'll never learn again.''
McLaughlin also has a conviction for burglary from 2005, when he was sentenced to eight months' imprisonment.
JADE'S KILLING SPARKS CALLS FOR CHANGE
Jade's murder has sparked calls for better information sharing between Australian and New Zealand authorities about serious criminals deported between the two countries.
Justice Minister Judith Collins, the Sensible Sentencing Trust and Tina Bayliss are pushing for changes to the law to prevent similar cases.
After today's sentencing, Collins said she would meet her Australian counterparts in Sydney this week to discuss a new trans-Tasman memorandum of understanding, which would improve the management of New Zealanders who are convicted in Australia and deported back to New Zealand.
Tina Bayliss wants:
- A register of serious criminals deported to New Zealand.
- Continued parole conditions for offenders deported back to New Zealand.
- Better information sharing between Australia and New Zealand about deported criminals.
"There have been three families that have been affected by this and there needs to be no more heartache between Australia and New Zealand," Bayliss told The Press yesterday.
Collins believes authorities should have ''timely access to deportation and conviction information''.
Collins also wants all court decisions published online. The documents would effectively act as a public register of criminals and improve public safety, she said.
Continued parole conditions were unlikely, because they were handed down in different jurisdictions, but "I have directed my officials to analyse the adequacy of existing or proposed orders for providing supervision or monitoring of offenders who return to New Zealand".
THE DEATH OF A 'GENTLE AND CARING' SCHOOLGIRL
Tina Bayliss told The Press her daughter was born in Oxfordshire, England, and moved to New Zealand in 2006. She was a bright pupil who excelled in every subject while at Cashmere High School.
Jade was "shy, but social" and had a close net of friends, she said.
"She was always so happy [and] positive. She was just the best daughter."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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