By Paul Gregoire and Ugur Nedim
On 2 March 2012, NSW police senior constable David Rixon pulled Michael Allan Jacobs over on Lorraine Street, West Tamworth for a routine breath test. But when the officer told the driver he was about to test him, Jacobs shot the highway patrolman in the chest with a .38 calibre pistol.
The officer returned fire, hitting Jacobs in the leg, abdomen and shoulder, before the senior constable collapsed and died at the scene.
A firearm found at the site of the murder contained two used and two unused cartridges marked with a common label. Ballistic tests identified the firearm as the weapon used in the crime, and further tests matched Jacob’s DNA to that found on the weapon.
On the afternoon of the incident, police executed a search warrant at the Olive Lane premises where Mr Jacobs lived with his partner Sharon Strudwick, and her son James. Police also intercepted mobile phone calls made by Mrs Strudwick on 6 March.
Mr Jacobs was charged with the murder and refused bail around two weeks later.
Stashing the evidence
A week after Jacob’s was taken into custody, police returned to the Olive Lane residence to execute another warrant. As the house appeared empty, an officer called Ms Strudwick’s mobile phone. It was answered by Monica Sampson, a passenger in Strudwick’s car.
Ms Strudwick told officers that her son was in the house and that he had been instructed not to answer the door. The officer requested that Strudwick return home, so the police could enter the residence.
Ten minutes later, Ms Sampson called Strudwick’s son using the woman’s mobile phone. Sampson relayed information from Ms Strudwick to her son in relation to hiding some bullets that were in a box within a bag that was hanging on the back of the door in his mother’s bedroom.
Initially, Ms Sampson suggested that James put the bullets in a bag that belonged to her. But then, Strudwick told her son to place the bullets in the toilet.
At this point, the officers who’d been listening in to the conversation forcibly entered the residence to conduct a search. The police were able to excavate part of the backyard and gain access to the sewer where the box of bullets was found.
It contained 27 unfired .38 calibre bullets, 20 of which were similar to those found in the revolver used by Jacobs.
On 5 July 2012, Ms Sampson was arrested at Parramatta police station for her part in trying to conceal the evidence.
The District Court trial
Ms Sampson pleaded guilty to hindering the discovery of evidence concerning a serious indictable offence committed by another person, contrary to section 315(1)(b) of the Crimes Act 1900. The maximum penalty for the offence is 7 years imprisonment.
She appeared for sentencing in the NSW District Court on 28 November 2012.
Both the Crown and NSW District Court judge Deborah Payne accepted that the crime was not premeditated. Her Honour also found that Sampson’s role was secondary in nature compared to Ms Strudwick’s.
However, the judge noted that Sampson had at one stage willingly suggested that the bullets should be hidden in her bag. And Judge Payne ruled that the objective seriousness of the offence was “in the lower part of the middle range” of offences of this type.
A troubled life
The court heard that Ms Sampson was 29 at the time of the offence. The Aboriginal woman was also heavily pregnant.
During her trial, Ms Sampson’s baby was in the care of the Department of Community Services. Her four older children had also been removed due to domestic violence situations. It was further heard that Ms Sampson had grown up in a household where domestic violence was common.
Ms Sampson had a long history of minor crimes. The sentencing judge placed significance on a past offence involving threats and injury to a witness, when Sampson was 15 years and 9 months old.
Whilst she stood before Judge Payne, Ms Sampson was already serving a 9 month period behind bars for a drug supply offence.
Her Honour sentenced Ms Sampson to 3 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 18 months. The defendant was given a 25 percent discount on her sentence due to the utilitarian value of her early guilty plea. So, the starting point for the sentence was 4 years imprisonment.
An unjust sentence
On 26 February 2014, Ms Sampson appealed her sentence to the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal (NSWCCA) on the single ground that it was “unreasonable or plainly unjust.”
“That the offence was committed in connection with an investigation with the crime of murder, is a marker of significant seriousness,” NSWCCA Justice Natalie Adams remarked. “On the other hand, the police were in fact not hindered in their investigation”, her Honour added.
However, the judge acknowledged that the officers had to excavate in order to find the ammunition.
Justice Adams found that the sentencing judge’s starting point for the sentence failed to allow for mitigating factors. And the fact Ms Sampson had nothing to gain from her actions suggested that the offence was “very much less than middle range seriousness.”
Her Honour further explained that Judge Payne’s was misguided in placiing importance on an offence that was committed 13 years prior to the current one.
Ms Sampson’s lawyers cited sentencing outcomes from a list of earlier cases dealing with similar offences, which were favourable to their client.
Justice Adams further remarked that although these sentences don’t reveal that Sampson’s sentence was manifestly excessive, the cases did deal with circumstances that were of “significantly greater seriousness than the present case.”
The appeals court ruling
“With respect to the primary judge, I have concluded that the ground of appeal has been made out and that the sentence was manifestly excessive,” Justice Adams ruled.
Her Honour outlined that a 12 month suspended sentence “was warranted in law and should have been passed,” in accordance with section 12 of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999.
At the time of the appeal, Ms Sampson had already spent 11 months behind bars, so it was “not fitting to impose such a sentence at” that point.
The NSWCCA therefore quashed Ms Sampson’s sentence, confirmed the conviction but imposed no further punishment in accordance with the provisions of section 10 A of the Crime (Sentencing Procedure Act).