Plea for Handford murder sentence appeal garners mass response

A distraught family hope the voices of 30,000 people will drive the public prosecutor to appeal the “grossly inadequate” sentence handed to war veteran Kenneth Handford’s murderer. 

The Handford family presented the department of public prosecutions with a heart-wrenching petition on Tuesday calling for the appeal of the 16-year murder sentence given to 29-year-old Jonathon Cooper.

Cooper would  likely have received a harsher sentence under a suite of proposed reforms expected to go before parliament this month. 

Attorney General Martin Pakula believes the family’s call for increased sentencing will be addressed under a proposed standard sentence scheme which would see the average sentence for 12 of the state’s most serious crimes substantially increased. 

“It’s very important that this standard sentencing legislation be passed so that we can have sentences for the most serious crimes more in line with community expectations,” Mr Pakula said. 

“There’s no doubt that for a range of offences, where the government is implementing sentencing standard, the average for those crimes will go up. That’s the intent of the legislation and it will undoubtedly be the effect of the legislation.” 

Mr Handford’s granddaughter Leah Handford said the reaction had propelled the community’s sentencing concern into focus. 

“The system let us down, but the community is lifting us back up and it’s  just empowered and inspired us to go further and continue on what we want to achieve,” Ms Handford said.

“It is absolutely mind blowing that in a little over a week more than 30,000 people have taken action and signed the petition,” Ms Handford said. 

Mr Handford was found lying face up, with his hands and legs bound.  He had been stabbed 13 times in the back, with a sock which is believed to have been used as a gag lying beside him. 

In sentencing Cooper, Supreme Court Justice Jane Dixon told the court she was bound to give the accused a discount for his willingness to give evidence against his co-accused. 

Under the proposed reforms the standard murder sentence will be 25 years. The court can sentence above or below the standard based on aggravating and mitigating factors, Mr Pakula said.

“But importantly, if the courts depart from the standard sentences they are going to need to provide a reason why they’ve done that.”

Sentencing Advisory Council chairman Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg said the aim of the proposed changes was primarily to increase sentencing levels.

“The laws that presently stand encourage people to plead guilty and to plead early. The average sentence currently for murder is 18-19 years with a non parole period of about 16-17 years,” Professor Freiberg said.

Plea bargaining and sentencing discounts exist to encourage early guilty pleas to spare victims from going through trial and to conserve the huge cost in resources to the comes with running a long trial.

The current average discount is around 25 per cent and 33 per cent off 33 per cent off the head sentence and non- parole sentence.

“If the government’s intentions are realised, then for the offences that have been identified it is probably likely that the average sentence will go up – many of them significantly.” 

Ms Handford hopes the proposed changes will makes a difference, but fears heavy discounts may occur even with sentencing standards.

“In our case the justice stated lots of reasons why she departed from the 27 years maximum – our concern is that it’s only matter of time before this happens again,” Ms Handford said. 

“The thing is, we acknowledge that there is a need for discounting – but at what point does the discount become so big that it negates the crime or the punishment for the crime?”

Mr Pakula acknowledged the Handford’s petition. 

“I compliment their activism and for the message they are bringing to parliament about the need for sentences that are more in line with community standards.”

The DPP is considering the sentence for possible appeal.