Sydney Man Sentenced to 28 Years for Murdering His Girlfriend

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Sydney Man Onitolosi Etuini Atiai Latu, aged 31, who was found guilty of the murdering his girlfriend Rhonda Baker in August 2016 has been sentenced to 28 years behind bars, with a non-parole period of 21 years.

The maximum sentence for murder in New south Wales is life imprisonment, with a standard non-parole period (SNPP) of 20 years. An SNPP is a reference for a sentencing judge when he or she is deciding the time a person must spend behind bars, before being eligible to apply for release into the community on parole.

The charge of murder

Last year, jury in the Supreme Court of New South Wales found Mr Latu guilty of murder, an offence under section 18 of the Crimes Act 1900, which states that:

(1)   A person commits murder if he or she causes the death of another person—

(a)   intending to cause the death of any person; or

(b)   with reckless indifference to the probability of causing the death of any person; or

(c)   intending to cause serious harm to any person.

(2)   A person who commits murder is guilty of an offence punishable, on conviction, by imprisonment for life.

Not guilty plea

Mr Latu pleaded not guilty and has never admitted killing his girlfriend, telling paramedics who saw her unconscious and frothing at the mouth in their Liverpool apartment that, ‘he found her like this and she had a seizure when he asked her what happened’ and she may have ‘been jumped down the street.’ He also told a psychologist in the weeks prior to his sentencing that he thought an ex-boyfriend may have killed Rhonda.

The court heard that Mr Latu gave four different versions of his whereabouts on the night in question. It also heard that in the weeks beforehand, he had threatened Ms Baker, saying he would ‘cave her head in’.

Mr Latu had previously been imprisoned for attacking another partner in 2013. In the months prior Rhonda’s death, Mr Latu had been served with an apprehended domestic violence order which allowed the pair to remain living together, after someone witnessed him attacking her in their car.

Protection by an AVO

An AVO is an order made by the court restricting the behaviour of the person against whom it is made, known as ‘the defendant’. It’s purpose is to safeguard the ‘protected person’ from violence, harassment, and unwanted behaviour such as stalking, threatening, destroying of property, and intimidation.

While an AVO can include boundaries, so as not to allow the defendant to enter the property of the ‘protected person’, or to go within a certain distance of that person, such measures were not included in this case – and the pair continued to share a home.

While an AVO does not amount to a criminal offence, a defendant found guilty and convicted of contravening an AVO will have that conviction recorded on their criminal history.

The sentencing

Justice Lonergran took the existence of an AVO into account when sentencing Mr Latu, imposing two years for the breach which she back-dated to when he was first placed in custody.

His full sentence is 28 years with a non-parole period of 21 years, which means he will be eligible to apply for parole in August 2037. At that time, the government can apply for him to be held longer in detention or order him to receive further supervision if he’s determined to be a high-risk offender.

During sentencing her Honour described the offence as a “murder of extreme brutality”.

“This was a sickening, violent attack on a defenceless woman much smaller than the offender,” the Justice remarked.

“Given the number of distinct injuries, the terrifying powerlessness she must have felt, and the undoubted brutality of the manner in which the fatal injuries to her head and face were inflicted, I consider this to be a very serious example of offending of this type”, she added.

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About Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer and magazine journalist with an interest in social justice, and a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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