28 February 2023

'You must pay your debt to society': prison for man who terrorised women sleeping in their home

| Claire Fenwicke
man being escorted by police

James Dudley March (right) is escorted by police to the Canberra police station. Photo: ACT Policing.

CONTENT WARNING: Some readers may find details of this article distressing.

James Dudley March only nodded he understood he was being sent to prison for a minimum of six years for subjecting two university students to what a justice described as “a woman’s worst nightmare”.

The court had previously heard how the now 36-year-old had broken into his victims’ Ainslie home on 4 March 2022, crawling into one of their beds and asking her, “why didn’t you answer the phone?”

He then covered her mouth with his hand and lay on top of her.

Then the second woman came in, to which March said, “it’s ok, there’s nothing wrong”.

He eventually forced both women into the bedroom before saying, “I’m going to have to do this”, pulling their hair and pushing them onto the bed.

The women later discovered he had pulled out chunks of their hair.

One detailed in her victim impact statement that she believed they would be “raped, beaten, murdered, or all three” during the attack.

March told his victims, “I was told to come to this house, but I have the wrong people”, and eventually had them both shower to wash his fingerprints off.

The students had only lived at the address for two weeks before the attack.

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During his sentencing in the ACT Supreme Court on Friday, 17 February, Justice Chrissa Loukas-Karlsson questioned his reasons for being in the home and why he didn’t immediately leave when he realised he had the wrong address.

She said while he had claimed he was there to confront a man about supplying drugs to his daughter, she found this “difficult to accept”.

“Only when he realised [the victim’s] housemate was home did he [stop],” Justice Loukas-Karlsson said.

March had pleaded guilty to two counts of assault, forcible confinement and threatening a participant in a legal proceeding, as well as one count of burglary.

In terms of the objective seriousness of the crimes, Justice Loukas-Karlsson found all of his offences were either approaching mid-range or towards the higher end.

She recognised his troubled background, including family violence, drug use and mental illness, but also said the victims’ impact statements had to be taken into account.

“It is a woman’s worst nightmare to have someone come into their home while she sleeps,” Justice Loukas-Karlsson said.

She noted, based on March’s “significant criminal history”, including a conviction of sexual intercourse without consent and burglary in 2014 – he had a high risk of re-offending and “very guarded prospects of rehabilitation”.

March had previously indicated he was “not interested” in rehab programs and could “do it himself”.

“It is very clear that a term apart from custody is not appropriate,” Justice Loukas-Karlsson said.

“[Prison] is inevitable regarding the nature of the offences.”

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She sentenced March to nine years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of six years.

He will be eligible to apply for release on 17 May 2028, having already spent nine months in prison.

He kept his gaze down as Justice Loukas-Karlsson addressed him directly before he was taken away: “You have a lot to think about over the next several years,” she said.

“You must pay your debt to society.”

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