NSW Court Reduces Murder Sentence on Appeal

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By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim

Seth Roberts picked up Gordon Reginald Cramp at around 3 am on 21 February 2013. The pair drove to Roberts’ Werrington home, where Mr Cramp injected some ice and smoked cannabis. He’d just had an argument his partner, Rachel Sydenham, who told him to get out of the house.

After an hour, Cramp asked Roberts to drive him to the Solveco industrial waste management yard, where he used to be employed, so they could buy more drugs. Cramp placed two unsheathed knives in his shoulder bag and they left.

On arrival at the St Marys yard, Cramp asked several employees if they would call the plant manager. He also climbed up onto a truck and cut the wires of some of the security cameras. Cramp then focused on Lance Hargreaves, following him around and demanding he call the manager.

Eventually, Mr Hargreaves firmly told Cramp that he’d had “enough.” Cramp then followed Hargreaves as he walked through an alleyway formed by stacked wooden pallets.

Although there were no witnesses, the evidence suggested that Cramp stabbed Hargreaves through the neck from behind. The force of the blow was sufficient to drive the knife from the left side of Hargreaves’ neck and out through the right side, completely severing his spinal cord.

Mr Cramp left his victim on the ground to die and rushed back to Mr Roberts’ car, with the bloody knife in his hand. The two men drove off, and after some time Cramp asked to be let out of the vehicle.

A warrant was issued for Mr Cramp’s arrest, and he surrendered himself at Windsor police station the following day.

The proceedings

On 29 October 2014, a jury in the NSW Supreme Court found Mr Cramp guilty of murder, under section 18 of the Crimes Act 1900. Section 19A of the Act provides that a “person who commits the crime of murder is liable to” life imprisonment.

The offence carries a standard non-parole period (SNPP) of 20 years. An SNPP is a reference point for the sentencing judge when determining the minimum time a person must spend behind bars before being eligible to apply for release on parole.

Supreme Court Justice Michael Adams sentenced Mr Cramp on 19 March 2015 to 40 years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 30 years.

A checkered history

The court heard that Mr Cramp, who was 37 at the time of the murder, had a long list of offences to his name. These included a conviction of causing grievous bodily harm with intent, contrary to section 33 of the Crimes Act. He was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for that crime.

Mr Cramp carried out that assault on 14 June 2002, after he drove past an ex-partner’s cousin. Cramp made a U-turn, stopped his vehicle and chased the man down the street, before repeatedly stabbing him with a knife.

At the time he murdered Hargreaves, Cramp was on an 18 month good behaviour bond for an offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, under section 59 of the Act.

Findings of the sentencing judge

Justice Adams found Mr Cramp had intended to kill Mr Hargreaves and not just inflict grievous bodily harm. He further found that although Cramp had carried the knives with him, the act of murder was not premeditated.

While Cramp had been using drugs at the time, he agreed that he was aware of what he was doing, and had no trouble recalling the event.

His Honour observed that there was no obvious motive for the murder. This, coupled with the circumstances of the crime, demonstrated that Cramp was a “dangerous” individual.

“The very inability to identify a motive, to my mind, increases rather than reduces his dangerousness,” Justice Adams found. “This is not a case in the worst category, but its objective seriousness is very great.”

Appealing the sentence

On 12 October last year, Mr Cramp appealed his sentence on two grounds to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal (NSWCCA), before a three judge panel made up of Justice Fabian Gleeson, Justice Des Fagan and Justice Natalie Adams.

The first ground of appeal was that the sentencing judge had made an error “in considering the applicant’s dangerousness to be increased because his motive for the offence could not be determined.”

The ground arose from comments relating to the absence of a motive for the killing. Mr Cramp lawyers submitted that this should not have been treated as an aggravating factor.

The panel of justices found that the trial judge did not in fact consider the lack of motive as an aggravating factor. Rather, Their Honours found that the lack of motive led Justice Adams to view the crime “as unexplained and lacking any context.”

They further found that the trial judge’s remarks about the increased danger Cramp posed to the community due to the inexplicability of the conduct were warranted. The absence of a motive was also relevant to the assessment of the offender’s prospects for rehabilitation; indeed, without an understanding of the underlying reasons for the offending conduct, assessing those prospects was not possible.

The justices found that the sentencing judge had not made an error in this respect, and the ground of appeal was accordingly dismissed.

An excessive sentence

The second ground of appeal was that the sentence was “unreasonable or plainly unjust.” In considering this ground, the panel made clear that it is not the position of the appeals court to reconsider a sentencing judge’s evaluation of the objective seriousness of the offence.

They determined that Justice Adams made no error in finding the seriousness of the offence was “very great.” The justices took into account that the murder was a “violent and unprovoked attack on an unarmed and unsuspecting man” but “was not aggravated by premeditation.”

Their Honours considered that a sentence of 40 years was towards the upper limit of sentences for murder, and the 30 year non-parole period was significantly higher than the SNNP of 20 years.

Although the murder was of “great objective seriousness,” the panel agreed with the sentencing judge’s evaluation that it was not “in the worst category.” Nor did the subjective circumstances of the offence “reasonably justify the severity of the sentence.”

The NSWCCA findings

On 16 December last year, the NSWCCA set aside the sentence imposed upon Mr Cramp, and resentenced him to 34 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 25 years and 6 months.

Mr Cramp will be eligible for release on parole in September 2038.

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