Brian Edwards Media

Meeting Brutality with Brutality


Rotorua Daily Post

Rotorua Daily Post

There can be no doubt that the killing of 78-year-old John Rowe was brutal. Rowe was in bed recuperating from an ulcerated leg and due to return to hospital for treatment the following day, when 16-year-old Courtney Pauline Churchward and 14-year old Lori-Lea Waiora Te Wini beat him to death with his own walking stick and a broom handle.

Mr Rowe’s death was not quick. Churchward, the senior partner in this murderous duo, testified that she stood by Rowe’s bed for a good two minutes ‘trying to prepare myself. Then I just hit him. He tried to get up. I hit him again. He was still trying to get up. I hit him again and again.’

Rowe’s fully-clothed body was found the next  morning by a neighbour. His face and head were extensively bruised and torn. His left arm was broken and his right  arm badly damaged. His fingers were torn and broken, injuries apparently consistent with attempting to ward off blows. Blood was spattered around his bedroom walls and ceiling.

‘Brutal’ – the word barely does the killing justice.

On Friday, December 18, in the High Court in Rotorua, Justice Geoffrey Venning sentenced Churchward, now 18, and Te Wini, now 15, to each serve at least 17 years in prison. He refused to make allowances for Te Wini’s age  by imposing a lesser non-parole period than Churchward’s.

‘Brutal’ – the word barely does the sentence justice.

Let us set aside the issue of retribution for a moment and look at the sentence in purely pragmatic terms. What social or other purpose does it serve?

Will it deter anyone else from committing murder? Absolutely not. As long ago as 1975 a Justice Department research paper on violent offending concluded:

‘It is doubtful whether this kind of conduct is readily responsive to deterrent sanctions. Explosive behaviour does not dwell on consequences, and some countries with the most severe punishments for violence have the highest incidence of violent offending.’

We are now one of those countries.

And what about rehabilitation? Will 35-year-old Churchward and 33-year-old Te Wini walk through the prison gates in 2026 having been given, in His Honour’s words, ‘more life skills in prison than you received at home’? Will they be ready to rejoin society as mentally healthy, reformed, productive citizens?

Get real!  17 years with little or no contact with the outside world. 17 years associating almost exclusively with other offenders. 17 years learning not the skills but the tricks of the trade. 17 years without the warmth and comfort of family, friends or lovers. 17 years in an environment where all personal decision-making, all individuality, all self-worth are taken from you. 17 years in  prison cells, counting off the 204 months, the 884 weeks, the 6,205 days of your life that are draining away.


I looked at the photographs of Churchward and Te Wini in the Herald and thought they looked like children. Churchward is beautiful and looks defiant. Te Wini has her hand over her mouth. You might think she was sucking her thumb.  She looks frightened. I wondered what strategies they could devise to survive those 6205 days behind bars and  could only come up with numbness or rage.

If I were Mr Rowe’s relatives I might well hate Churchward and Te Wini. I might want them to rot in hell. But, curiously, they showed more compassion than Justice Venning. ‘We realise these girls are daughters, sisters, nieces,’ Mr Rowe’s daughter, Wendy, told reporters, ‘We feel for their families.’ The police agreed.. ‘It is a tragedy for them and their families as much as it is for the victim and his family,’ Detective Inspector Rob Jones said after the verdict.

But the tragedy for these girls goes back further than the killing of Mr Rowe. The court heard that both Churchward and Te Wini had lived transient lifestyles, moving homes regularly between relatives in different cities.  Since being expelled from school at 13 Te Wini had spent most of her time sleeping or smoking cannabis. She had told a probation officer  she ate only once every three days. By 14 she had had two relationships with gang members and suffered from a stress disorder.

A pre-sentencing report on Churchward said she was intelligent, ‘full of promise’ and, in other circumstances, could have led a completely different life. She had been abused by an older relative and lived in an abusive relationship with a man recently released from prison.

In his homily to the girls at sentencing, Justice Venning appeared to understand where the seat of this tragedy really lay – in the girls’ family and social backgrounds:

‘You are victims of the failure of your own families to provide any sort of direction, support or encouragement to learn any sort of values. They failed you in the most basic of ways.’  

Yet neither the girls’ youth nor their backgrounds moved him to show either mercy or compassion towards the teenagers he had just described as ‘victims’. Instead he chose to meet brutality with brutality. His sentence of life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 17 years was in the finest Old Testament tradition of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. In return for taking away Mr Rowe’s life, he took away the lives of two young women, not physically but in every other sense.


There is, of course, a dilemma here. Though punishment rarely deters other than already law-abiding  citizens, crime cannot go unpunished. Churchward and Te Wini had to be punished. But punishment need not involve the total destruction of the perpetrator.  Does Justice Venning really believe that these girls needed 17 years to learn their lesson? Might they not have learned it in 15, or 10, or 5? Might they not have learned it on the day of their arrest or as they stood in the dock listening to His Honour’s homily, that starring moment, so loved of judges, the media and us, their audience? I think they might.

I don’t know what sentence would have been appropriate for these young killers. But its aim should have been twofold – to satisfy society’s need to punish wrongdoing and to save something from the wreckage of their lives. By his 17 year sentence Justice Venning satisfied the first but rendered the second impossible.

, ,


  1. Beautifully expressed, Brian.

    Perhaps (in that best of all possible worlds that the Sensible Sentencing Trust stands forever vigilant against) these two young women would be confined in an institution dedicated to growing things. Plants, animals, minds and (if I may test your atheist sensibilities) souls.

    Open their minds to a world thay have barely yet caught a glimpse of. Give them access to all the knowledge and art and literature of human civilisation. Let them tend a garden, or raise an an animal from infancy to maturity. Give them some sense of the stately order of the seasons, the beauty of the stars.

    Let them be healed.

    And then – let them go.

    • Beautifully expressed, Brian.

      Thank you, Chris. And what a glorious world it would be if we had the enlightened leadership that would allow the sort of measures you propose. You won’t find it in National, Labour or ACT. And, while they are in bed with National, not from the Maori Party either, though their people would be the ultimate beneficiaries from such policies. And the Greens? Is there still a Green Party?

  2. It’s so refreshing to hear some compassionate words, some sense, among such a vengeance filled world. A great post.

  3. A very thoughtful and caring post Brian, thankyou.
    I think it likely that the judge had little option in his sentencing more’s the pity.

    • I think it likely that the judge had little option in his sentencing more’s the pity.

      It’s actually not correct that the judge had little option in sentencing the girls. He had the option not to nominate a minimum parole period at all. Had he taken that course, they could have been out of prison in 10 years or even less. In nominating a non-parole period of 17 years he effectively condemned the two teenagers to serve that entire time in prison. I’m not sure whether the word ‘brutal’ is sufficient to describe this sentence. ‘Sadistic’ might come closer to what I feel about it.

  4. Go isn’t a complete sentence. It is not even a clause on it’s own. We take it as such, because everyone says it.

  5. This case caugh my attention when one of the girls said she had been beaten unconcious plenty of times and she sort of thought Mr. Rowe would just wake up after a while. I don’t know if that was what she really thought or it was just the feeble defense of someone to doomed by circumstance to think up anything else, but either way it was moved by the tragic, pathetic, stupidity of it.

    Then when I heard the verdict I thought “Great. Three lives ended, two more people who I’ll be paying for forever”. Like you, I wonder at what benefit will accrue to society when the resultant 35 and 33 year old is unleashed – unprepared, unskilled and probably driven mad – on the world in seventeen years.

    I was incredulous at the words of the judge you quote -‘more life skills in prison than you received at home’ – surely a judge cannot be so removed from the realities of the prison system that he truly believes that? And if he does, is it not a scandal that judges have not the foggiest idea of what they are sentencing people to?

    These two young women will probably be singled out in prison. That will mean solitary for their own “protection”. That means being locked up alone 23 hours a day 365 days of the year for much of the next seventeen years. For a forteen year old. For a sixteen year old (remember, they’ve probably been in custody since those ages).

    These two young women are young enough to be candidates for rehabilitation with enough care and effort. Saved to become taxpayers and good people, if only we had a justice and prison system funded and dedicated to such things.

    We speculate on what would constitute a just sentence, if rehabilitation was a viable option. My thoughts turned to another New Zealand murder, a grisley killing of a women beaten to death by two teenage girls with a subsequent sensational trial. They got five years each. One later became a successful novelist and neither ever offended again. Of course, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme were lucky enough to have committed their crime in 1952.

    I wonder if in 2009 it wouldn’t be more humane to just hang them.

    • I wonder if in 2009 it wouldn’t be more humane to just hang them.

      For a brief moment, Tom, I asked myself the same question. But only for a moment. We must never return to the barbarism that is capital punishment.

      An excellent comment, by the way. Thank you.

  6. “17 years without the warmth and comfort of family, friends or lovers.” The problem here is that there was no warmth and comfort and unlikely to be any. They will go to prison and as you say 17 years associating exclusively with other offenders. But that is probably what they have been doing up to now and what they would continue to have done had they not committed this crime. At least they will eat regularly. At least they will be given an opportunity in prison to turn their lives around if they choose.

    I doubt whether the sentence is going to deter anyone. It does mean however that for the next 17 years defenceless old men and women will not have to worry about being beaten by this pair; there will be plenty of others of course to dish out the treatment, but not these two.

    In terms of rehabilitation I doubt whether it will make much difference whether it is 10 or 17 years. It is their choice whether they want to be rehabilitated. Don’t misunderstand me, I basically agree with you. It is as much a tragedy for these girls as it is for the family of the victim. They could be my daugters or your daughters and brought up in a loving environment. Instead…. Possibly the real villains are the parents of the girls and perhaps they should be serving time in gaol as well for what is manifestly gross neglect.

    My real worry is that in 17 years time these girls will still be of child bearing age. If they released unchanged God help us and any children they bear.

    My final point is that it is no good blaming Justice Venning. Like all judges he has had the hard word put on him “get tough on crims”; the mob has spoken.

    • My final point is that it is no good blaming Justice Venning. Like all judges he has had the hard word put on him “get tough on crims”; the mob has spoken

      We could debate these various points for some time, but since you say you basically agree with me, I’l restrict my response to your last point. Judge Venning had a wide discretion in sentencing these girls. His simplest option was to sentence them, as he is required to do under the law, to life imprisonment, which could mean 10 years or possibly even less. By nominating a non-parole period of 17 years he ensured that this was the minimum period of imprisonment for the two teenagers. Having said that, you may well be right. The mob, led by the Garth McVicars of this world, may well have spoken. If that is indeed the case, I would say that any judge who sees it as his job to pander to the prejudice and stupidity of the mob is not fit to be a judge at all.

  7. I cant help but think that if I were a member of the poor mans family I would be out for blood!

    The fact is a mans life was taken….no one deserves to die like that… we say “oh well they had a rough life so doesnt matter they took someones life”!! I think a sentence less they 10 years would be saying the deceased mans life was worth nothing.

    They now have 17 years to think about that 78 year old man they bashed to death.

    • I cant help but think that if I were a member of the poor mans family I would be out for blood!

      And if I were a member of the poor man’s family, so would I. But we can’t run our justice system on the basis of revenge. If we were to do that we would no longer be a civilised society. Nor can we set aside the conditions that have turned a small child into someone who beats an old man to death. The backgrounds of violent offenders are invariably characterised by depredation, neglect and abuse. Children from loving families rarely become violent offenders. So when you send two teenage violent offenders to prison for however many years it is, you are punishing them for the circumstances into which they were born and over which they had no control. Today’s abused become tomorrow’s abusers. I am not saying these girls should not be punished. But the punishment is savage and disproportionate and achieves nothing other than satisfying our need for revenge. Better to turn these girls’ lives around than to destroy them.

  8. I apologise for pursuing this but I must come to the defence of Justice Venning and other judges. They do not have the freedom of action that you seem to think they have. There are sentencing guidelines contained in the Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2002. This came about as a result of the referendum led by McVicar and his chums. In the case of murder provision is made in the act for a non-parole period of 17 years with one specific reason being “the murder involved the unlawful entry into a dwelling place, or was committed in the course of another seriuos offence, or demonstrated extreme brutality pr callousness.”

    Judges can ignore these guidelines but unless they come up wiith very good reasons the case is likely to be appealed by the prosecution and the sentence overturned. In this case I doubt whether the sentence would have differed regardless of the judge.

    I have no doubt the sentence will be appealed by the defence. It will be interesting to see the outcome. The applate judges may share your view. However please do not be so harsh on Justice Venning. Be harsh on the 90% who voted for harsher sentences in that referendum. Be harsh on politicians who respond to dog whistle referenda when it suits them.

    • I apologise for pursuing this but I must come to the defence of Justice Venning and other judges.

      No need to apologise. Before writing this post, I contacted one of the foremost criminal defence lawyers in New Zealand, whom I am fortunate enough to have as a friend. His view was that the judge would have been able to impose a sentence of life imprisonment (mandatory in murder convictions) without setting a non-parole period. I agree with you that the climate of lynch mob revenge which has been created by the Sensible Sentencing Trust and the outcome of their meaningless and dishonest referendum may well have put pressure on judges to bring in more draconian sentences than they might have done before. For that, however, they must accept responsibility themselves. If Justice Venning did not genuinely believe that a 17-year sentence on two teenage girls was justified, then surely the moral course of action would have been not to impose such a sentence and to let the prosecution appeal if they felt so inclined. If he felt the sentence was justified, then he is, in my submission, a man lacking in compassion or humanity.

  9. Thanks for your thoughts; it will be most interesting to see what happens when this turns up in the Court of Appeal. I do have to agree with you on the fundamental point that it is heartbreaking that two young girls who by the sound of it never knew a day’s love in their lives should in some ways be punished for something that was outside their control. I also agree that they should only spend enough time in prison as is needed to rehabilitate them (and I hope that is possible) and to enable them perhaps to atone for their crime inside rather than outside society. I also wish rather more effort would be put in to finding out why as a society we excel at destroying the lives of so many children. I imagine that during their short lives they received plenty of parental correction, which evidently did not help them. Mr Croskerie (or whatever your name is), please note

  10. Well done for writing this piece
    I agree
    And as for the whereabouts of the Green Party ?
    They are still the third biggest party, still full of ideas and different perspectives and largely still being ignored by the MSM

    • And as for the whereabouts of the Green Party ? They are still the third biggest party, still full of ideas and different perspectives and largely still being ignored by the MSM.

      Good news, thomasf. Not sure that I agree about the media ignoring them. I seem to see Sue Kedgley on TV regularly.

  11. 11

    ianmac from Abudhabi

    A lawyer whose name I forget, had to spend some time locked in a NZ prison. He said that the effect of the first 28 days locked up were horrific. Loss of freedom. Obedience and so on. After about 28 days he said you settled into a routine and all became blurred and you just got used to it all. It suggested that longer sentences did not have as dramatic effect as is believed.

  12. I see nothing particularly “brutal” with regard to the sentence; it is commensurate with the nature of the crime. Hence, Justice Venning was neither vengeful nor was his sentencing one of “retribution” (as you put it).

    The nature of the murder was sustained and chillingly brutal. Chilling, because zilch remorse was shown not only in the immediate aftermath of the crime, itself, but during the trial as well. There was an air of detachment, approaching bored indifference as to the gravity of the offence. You can argue that the girls’ demeanour is tangential to the commissioning of the murder but nonetheless it runs as a deep current underneath. With this in mind, and notwithstanding the very young ages, I’m not convinced that “mercy or compassion” can be afforded towards these teenagers. And that mitigation and redemption should be given any judicial weight, which could be construed as partial exoneration.

    There was a dark strain of ‘naked evilness’ which accompanied this crime. And while there was an inarguable wretchedness to their sordid upbringing, it still doesn’t undercut the sheer viciousness of their deed. And that’s why the judge handed down the sentence. Depressing, as it may be: I don’t there’s much to save here, or if anything can be saved at all. An extended period of incarceration seems wholly appropriate.

    • Oh dear, Merv, where to begin? Next you’ll be telling me about ‘bad blood’, presumably the same bad blood that accounts for 50% of our prison population being Maori. You want to separate the cause from the effect. Sure he/she was beaten senseless/sexually abused as a kid, what’s that got to do with anything? You’d probably get support from our friend Nigel Latta who appears to take the view that at the moment the crime is committed, the perpetrator has unfettered free will and deserves no special compassion.

      You’re in the right country at least Merv – we’re a nation of punishsers, love it, can’t get enough of it, the answer to every social problem, no sentence too severe. Why, we even organise massive petitions and referenda because the government doesn’t want us to hit our kids. And we’re beating the living daylights out of them in record numbers.

      17 years not brutal? Get a heart, Merv. Yours is missing.

      And, just as an insignificant aside, this approach to violent offending has never worked and never will. But we’re slow learners in New Zealand. When we throw water on a fat fire and burn down the house as a result, we conclude that we didn’t throw enough water.

      Must be time to move onto birching, and 49% of Kiwis favour a return to capital punishment. Onward and upward, Merv. Onward and upward.

  13. I suspect 28 days in a NZ prison might be preferable to 28 days in an Abudhabi clink. I assume, ianmac, that you are not doing porridge as you write? On the main point, I sometimes wonder whether any punishment does much good other than satisfying a desire for revenge and keeping the offender off the streets. As for changing behaviour, I am dubious.

    I wonder as to the relevance of the Green Party (thomasf) to this topic. I would disagree that they are largely ignored by the MSM. The party gets considerable coverage albeit on environmental issues rather than on Crime and Punishment.

  14. Great, thoughtful post.

    Meanwhile, the murderer who used a banjo to beat a 69-year-old to death, a killer with the wherewithal to save enough for a trip to the other end of the planet, a full grown 31-year-old adult, gets 12 years. Of course, that killer was a European male. Just saying.

  15. I knew it! I knew it! I try and write, proper —
    and I get the condescending roll-of-the-eyes “Oh dear, Merv, where to begin?”

    What is it about people with fancy degrees,
    thinking they can’t be told Anything because they know Everything. Must be the intoxicating rarefied air of academe which fills them with this insufferable air of omniscience.

    I didn’t “separate the cause from the effect”; I’m saying that it can only provide an insight into an abhorrent criminal act, not excuse it so it can be conveniently parlayed by some clever lawyer to plead for ridiculous leniency.
    Having an aberrant upbringing can’t be used as licence to get off, lightly. And the courts should refrain from allowing for extenuating circumstance when there are no obvious exculpatory factors that relate directly to the
    crime. A crap upbringing doesn’t fall into that realm, not unless the deceased victim
    arises from the grave and says so. The crime has to be seen in its totality; otherwise you’re going to have these — largely interpretative —
    socio-economic differentials being played up, thus infecting the administration of justice, together with the sentencing.

    About a year ago I went along to the AGS Centennial Theatre to hear a lecture from the sensible Sentencing Trust They spoke a whole lot of sense, there was no exaggeration/hysteria that went with the lecture. During the discussion, a whole lot of members from the Mongrel Mob (red bandannas and all) trouped in to hear the lecture, too.

    Why is it that on the continuum of objective debate about smacking kids — your reasoning, without fail, lies somewhere between the Emotive and the Reductive? It’s never “tough love” (a few good whacks with a switch), it’s always “beating the living daylights out of them in record numbers”. Typically hyberbolic, no common sense.

    Oh, btw: there ain’t nothing wrong with my “heart”; it’s beating strong. Warm and effusive, too. Allowing me to keep my feet on the firm terrain of reality, and my head from out of the clouds.

    • I knew it! I knew it! I try and write, proper – and I get the condescending roll-of-the-eyes “Oh dear, Merv, where to begin?” What is it about people with fancy degrees, thinking they can’t be told Anything because they know Everything. Must be the intoxicating rarefied air of academe which fills them with this insufferable air of omniscience.

      I take it Merv you never use the services of a doctor, dentist, lawyer, architect, school teacher, surgeon, or any other person with a ‘fancy degree’. My ‘oh dear, Merv’ was probably condescending; your reference to ‘fancy degrees’ is gratuitous. So we’ll call it quits on that score.

      The Sensible Sentencing Trust is sensible in so far as it advocates for more help for the victims of crime. A good cause. But their policies on law and order are senseless because the increasingly punitive measures they advocate have never worked and will never work. We already have those policies in New Zealand. We keep people in prison longer in this country than in any other developed nation, with the exception of the United States. The vast majority of their inmates are black: 50% of our inmates are Maori. Something not working too well there, Merv? But those are the policies the Sensible Sentencing Trust wants to continue with and even go further – chain gangs, tent prisons, maybe even capital punishment if someone can show it works. If you’ve got a problem and try the same method of fixing it, again and again and again, and it never works, it might be sensible to look for a new solution or risk being thought a fool.

      Now the reason/excuse argument. There is a direct connection between physical and emotional abuse as a child and later violent offending. As I said in a previous comment, kids from loving homes don’t normally become violent offenders. But none of us is responsibe for the way we were raised. As the old saying goes, you can’t choose your parents. Nor can you choose the environment you are raised in. So accept for a moment that the combination – nature and nurture – conspire to turn you into a violent offender. Your background clearly provides an explanation for your behaviour or a reason for your behaviour.

      Is that the same as providing an excuse for your behaviour? In the sense that we should regard the behaviour as acceptable or that we should approve of it, obviously not. We should not accept such behaviour and we must disapprove of it. But the existence of an explanation or reason for the behaviour that was outside the control of the offender surely provides grounds for mitigating any punishment the offender receives. It offers a partial excuse.

      Where I differ from the Sensible Sentenching Trust is that , in certain circustances, I can see room for sympathy for both the victim of the crime and the perpetrator of the crime. I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive.

      As to whether you have a heart or not, if you find nothing troubling about the idea of two teenage girls spending the next 17 years behind bars, I’m going to stick to my original diagnosis.

  16. “It’s never “tough love” (a few good whacks with a switch”

    Merv, if I understand you correctly you believe tough love is represented by a few good whacks with a switch. I am afraid I have to go further than Brian. You not only lack a heart but you are barbaric. You are worse than the two girls. You have presumably a veneer of education and civilisation. I assume you were brought up in a stable , though I assume a violent environment. You should know better; they do have some excuse. It is not actually a large step from hitting a child a few good whacks with a switch to hitting a defenceless old man with his own walking stick.

    Merv, if I have misinterpreted your comment I do apologise, but if my interpretation is correct you are beneath contempt. Brian was far too easy on you.

  17. Ben: “Merv, if I have misinterpreted your comment I do apologise, but if my interpretation is correct you are beneath contempt. Brian was far too easy on you”.

    Benny, “a few good whacks with a switch”, was meant to be ‘idiomatic'; whereas, your reaction is idiocy.

  18. Too many people here are throwing about absurd accusations. The only people beneath contempt in this story are the two girls who committed an unimaginably awful crime. Merv, your only crime was to attempt to bring a little balance and common sense to the table and I for one salute you.

  19. Bill and Merv – two people people who go to demonstrate that the confusion that is common in the talkback Taliban isn’t the same as common sense.

  20. That’s right Tom it’s Merv and I who are the problem. It’s not people who choose to butcher defenseless old people.

    Look I’m not saying I agree with excessively punitive jail sentences. In fact on Blaise Drinkwater’s blog a while back you could find me arguing that sometime in the future people looking back will view prisons in a similar way to the way we now view a range of barbaric practices that have thankfully been confined to history.

    I don’t think the average talkback caller you so disdain would express a viewpoint like that.

    Nevertheless to me there was something quite unbalanced and disturbing about the collective group hug that this thread had become. In the rush to congratulate each other on your enlightened views you were making some mistakes. Labeling the judge as worse than these killers is an egregious mistake. Labeling Merv as worse than these killers is an egregious mistake.

    If you want to illustrate injustice and brutality in our system of justice I’ve no doubt you could find much better examples than this one.

  21. I agree with Merv regarding this sentence. It is entirely appropriate to the crime, and to these two offenders who have apparently expressed no remorse. The lack of remorse is telling, as it is symptomatic of psychopathy – which is not an easily treated condition, originating in both genes and upbringing.

    The point of a sentence like this is not punishment, or deterrence (which only works some of the time on some offenders), or even rehabilitation (and prison is not the best place for this, not that it is likely to happen with psychopaths anyway), but INCAPACITATION.

    This is a point that both sides of the debate tend to miss. It isn’t about punishment, or revenge, or trying to change these offenders. At this stage they are clearly beyond that. It is a matter of simply preventing them from creating more victims, and keeping society safe from them.

    Maybe one day science will deliver some 100% guaranteed magical fix that will change such offenders into good people. Until then, we have to accept that some people will need to be housed in prisons. There is no need for them to be inhumane or brutal, although unfortunately the nature of the residents tends to make them so.

    That said prison is not the ultimate or total answer. Early intervention is needed, to get kids out of these dysfunctional families in the first place. I would bet good money that the parents of these two have track records of violence and/or alcohol/drug abuse, and that they have gang connections. The systematic removal of all children from such families would save lives, prevent vast amounts of abuse and neglect, and give these kids a decent chance at life. Of course the question arises of who is to look after them? I freely admit to not having the answer to that, but it is a question that needs an answer.

    • I agree with Merv regarding this sentence. It is entirely appropriate to the crime, and to these two offenders who have apparently expressed no remorse. The lack of remorse is telling, as it is symptomatic of psychopathy – which is not an easily treated condition, originating in both genes and upbringing.

      I think most of this is pretty reasonable. However, your judgement that the girls concerned were psychopaths, based on their failure to show remorse, seems to me unfounded. We’ve all got used to the media telling us that the accused ‘showed no emotion’ or ‘showed no sign of remorse’ at sentencing. More often than not what they are displaying is numbness, a necessary shutting off from their situation. Or occasionally bravado, the need not to be seen as a ‘broken arse’ in facing the prospect of a long term in prison. You really need to remember that these were two teenage girls. It’s far too early to write them off.

      Curiously, I don’t agree with you about the purpose of imprisonment not being punishment or deterrence. I think it has to be both. But the terms have to be reasonable and the conditions – here I’m in total agreement with you – humane and offering the possibility of rehabilitation.

      And I’ll go along with ‘incapacitation’ provided it continues only as long as the individual is deemed a threat to society. Actually, most murderers to not kill again. Domestic killings are often heat of the moment, alcohol fuelled events, involving readily available weapons such as kitchen knives, where the killing is instantly regretted. Why put someone who will not offend again in prison for 10 to 17 years? Why not let them out after a reasonable period of between one and five years? That is the logical corollary of your argument for prison as incapacitation.

  22. While I agree with your argument against what appears as an excessively punitive strike by an individual judge, there are a couple of things that set this case apart:
    – although the victim was ‘known’ to the two girls, their attack was of a ‘random’ nature (i.e. not as retribution for past wrongs nor domestically oriented as is the ‘norm’).
    Matt Nippert quotes Dr Nick Wilson (“Violent Femmes”, Listener, July 26 2008) as stating that there are amongst young women increasing rates of “goal-directed violence” (more commonly attributed to male offenders). There’s ‘equality’ for you.
    – ‘Psychopathy’ is a label now pretty much viewed as a generalisation (umbrella) for a cluster of symptoms common to various specific disorders. Nippert also quotes Dr S. Murdoch saying that women with a history of “polyvictimisation” often never learn empathy or the regulation of emotional responses and have a “hostile attributional bias”.
    While this article is fairly lightweight in the shadow of increasing research into women’s violence, it does offer a useful overview. What is most often revealed in research is the high incidence of psychological (personality) disorders amongst offenders and the compelling power of antisocial influences – family, friends, inmates.
    If anti-violence programs were more readily available in all prisons there might be some hope, especially if solid alternate social supports were available after sentence.
    Perhaps Justice Venning sought to prevent the cycle of violence by putting these two outside the range of procreative opportunity?