Remorseful thief who tried to return $350k to elderly Australian couple walks free
A thief planning to return more than A$350,000 (NZ$373.000) he stole from an elderly couple's safe was pulled over by Australian police for speeding on his way to return the cash.
Nathan Smith, from the UK, won an appeal against his sentence and has been freed from jail.
Smith visited the Perth home of an 82-year-old man and his wife, who suffered from dementia, and offered to paint their house.
They agreed on a price and in February 2016, Smith was working outside when he asked to use the toilet.
Smith, then aged 22, saw a gun safe and used the key to open it, uncovering A$362,450 in cash, which he took then left the house, feigning illness.
The next day, Smith decided to return the money, hoping the man would not have noticed it was missing, but was stopped by police for speeding.
The man had, in fact, reported the theft so police arrested Smith, who also had an additional $20,000 with him, which he had won at a casino before the crime.
The Western Australia Court of Appeal heard the elderly man suffered severe anxiety when he discovered his life savings were gone, which he needed to care for his wife.
He was also unsure how much cash was stolen, initially believing it was A$130,000 but Smith admitted it was more.
The judges described it as a "highly unusual case" and said Smith's offending was brief and opportunistic.
"The offence was unplanned and involved the appellant making a stupid and dishonest decision when he unexpectedly discovered a very large amount of cash," the judgment read.
"The decision to return the money meant that he would have obtained no actual benefit from the offence, even if he had not been apprehended."
Smith did not target vulnerable elderly people, had demonstrated remorse and had taken steps to rehabilitate himself, the judges said.
"When the nature of the offending is understood, general deterrence does not demand a sentence of immediate imprisonment irrespective of the other mitigating features of the case."
Acknowledging that Smith had served about two months of his one-year prison term, the judges ordered he be sentenced to 10 months in jail, suspended for one year.