WARNING: This story contains graphic descriptions of violence.
The teenager who murdered an 82-year-old in an LSD-fuelled rage has successfully appealed his sentence. He will now spend about half the time of his original sentence in jail.
He was only 17 when he used the dark web to buy five tabs of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) for $4 each. He took two of them when he was with his friends on 15 March 2019.
Soon after, the Year 11 student told the others he was “freaking out”. He later left his home.
Richard Cater, his wife and two friends had just had dinner in town and drove back to Mr Cater’s home at about 10:20 pm.
As soon as their car pulled into the driveway, the teen wrenched open a door and began to punch and bite one of the friends, as well as try to pull this man’s mouth apart.
The other friend, an elderly woman, tried to push the teen away, but he punched and bit her too, then yanked her head forward, causing spinal cord trauma.
Mr Cater’s wife ran for help while he went to his friends’ aid. It is unclear what happened next, but Mr Cater was seen lying in the gutter and the teen stomped on his head.
The teen pleaded guilty to murder, among other offences.
Late last year, he was sentenced to 15 years’ jail by ACT Supreme Court Justice Michael Elkaim, which would have been suspended once he served eight-and-a-half years.
But the teen appealed, claiming Justice Elkaim had made an error and the sentence was “manifestly excessive” as well as “unreasonable and unjust”.
On Friday (17 September), the ACT Court of Appeal’s Chief Justice Helen Murrell and Justices David Mossop and Thomas Thawley allowed the appeal and resentenced the teen.
They found Justice Elkaim had made an error, and as they had come to that conclusion, they did not need to address the other complaints.
The three judges said the murder involved a “nightmarish attack on an elderly man in the presence of his wife and their elderly friends”.
However, they said the teen did not deliberately seek out Mr Cater or the other victims, but “encountered them as he roamed the streets in a psychotic state, apparently attempting to ‘walk off’ a disturbing LSD ‘trip'”.
The judges found that due to the teen’s age and limited experience with LSD, he did not appreciate the drug could cause a severe psychotic reaction that would make him a danger to others.
They said he has no memory of the murder or assaults, but when he learned about them, he was “shattered”.
A pre-sentence report said the teen’s behaviour had improved while in custody and he had shown “maturity and leadership” during the Bimberi riots in August 2019.
He hopes to complete his Year 12 certificate, is studying horticulture, volunteers in hospitality classes and a barista program, and maintains vegetable gardens in Bimberi. He plans to work in his father’s landscaping business when he’s released from jail.
“It must be deeply hurtful to the victims and their families that the horrific incident which caused their shocking losses has afforded the [teen] opportunities for educational and personal development that will enable him to lead a more productive adult life when released,” the judges said.
“However, the criminal justice system is not a vehicle for retribution.
“Especially in the case of young offenders, it should, where possible, be a vehicle for rehabilitation, an outcome that benefits both the individual offender and the broader community.”
He was resentenced to 11 years and nine months’ jail, to be suspended after he served four-and-a-half years behind bars, which means he will be released in September 2023. The remainder of his sentence is to be served by a good behaviour order.