A 24-year-old man charged with interfering with a dead body following a 2022 fatal car crash has avoided jail time, with the magistrate stressing he wasn’t responsible for his friend’s death.
Samuel Angus Berron fronted ACT Magistrates Court on Wednesday (24 May), where he changed his earlier not guilty plea to guilty for the charges of interfering with a corpse and common assault.
Nathan Mugridge had been driving down Kingsford Smith Drive in Melba at around 5:30 pm on 20 May 2022 with Berron in the front passenger seat when Mr Mugridge lost control of the vehicle and hit a light pole.
Mr Mugridge was killed instantly, while Berron suffered minor injuries.
Witnesses then saw Berron strike his dead friend in the chest before exiting the car, walking to the driver’s side door, and repeatedly striking his friend.
Documents tendered to the court showed Berron knew his friend was dead when he chose to assault his body.
He also threatened a bystander who tried to calm him down, stating, “I’ll kill you, you c–t, I’ve been to jail before and I don’t give a sh-t”.
Mr Mudridge’s mother sobbed as she read her victim impact statement to the court, questioning why Berron chose to hit her son rather than help him.
“Samuel, you dishonoured and disgraced my son in the worst possible way,” she said.
“Your contribution to the most horrific and traumatic thing [to happen] … Nathan deserved dignity and respect.
“You call yourself my son’s friend; that’s not what friends do … I will never forgive you.”
Magistrate Glenn Theakston acknowledged the mother’s suffering but stressed that Berron was not responsible for her son’s death.
“The unfortunate and tragic death of Nathan is not something the defendant has been charged with,” he said.
“[However] he is responsible for his actions after the accident … [which made Nathan’s death] so much worse by the offending.”
Berron’s defence lawyer Adrian McKenna attempted to have the charges dismissed or diverted to the ACT Civil and Administration Tribunal (ACAT) for a psychiatric treatment disorder, arguing Berron had been mentally impaired at the time.
Mr McKenna argued Berron had been suffering from generalised anxiety disorder at the time and also relied on evidence he had been diagnosed with PTSD, showed depressive symptoms, substance abuse and had intermittent explosive disorder.
“People react differently to tragedy, to sudden accidents, to grief,” he said.
“Something happened in the moment [while Berron was] in a heightened state … and the threat [to the bystander] was in very tense circumstances.”
Magistrate Theakston dismissed this application, stating he felt the tests for a mental health application were not met and that Berron should face the full weight of the law.
“[The interfering with a human body offence] is clearly one that is offensive and will provoke anger, astonishment and disgust,” he said.
“However, it is not a case of … callous disregard but a spontaneous and uncontrolled response.”
Magistrate Theakson explained that while he accepted Berron had substance abuse and mental health issues, he needed to realise his actions had consequences.
“Responding by way of tantrums is not an appropriate way to conduct himself,” he said.
Mr McKenna argued for a good behaviour order to be imposed, stating Berron had shown “genuine remorse … embarrassment and shame” over what he had done and that his mental health should still have a bearing on the sentence imposed.
The prosecution agreed some sort of supervision order would be appropriate.
Magistrate Theakson reminded the court and those present that Berron had been a victim of the crash himself and was “lucky to walk away from the wreck alive”.
He said he understood Berron had a tendency to “overreact” in stressful situations but told Berron that “resorting to outbursts such as this is not the answer.”
Magistrate Theakston noted Berron had been subject to threats online and had also been beaten in Canberra one night after the crash.
“You could hardly say [he’s] walked away without any consequence,” he said.
Berron was sentenced to a 12-month good behaviour order for the offending, which Magistrate Theakston advised him to use as a rehabilitative resource.
He also imposed a “tangible fine” of $2000 for interfering with Mr Mudridge’s body.
“[This amount does] not reflect the value of Nathan’s life or the disrepect [shown],” Magistrate Theakston said.
Charges of offensive behaviour in a public place and reckless threat to kill were dismissed.
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