11 February, 2010

An argument about rent

Michael Grant was not in a good way, financially and physically. His health was poor, suffering from both hepatitis B and hepatitis C as well as a damaged liver, and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and manic depression. He was prescribed valium and codiene phosphate, which did little to alleviate his pain, and contributed to his existing drug and alcohol addiction. In 1996, he invited Neville Lees to move in with him to help out with the rent, however this did not pan out particularly well, as Neville quickly fell behind in rent payments.

After Neville had been living with Michael for about a month, they began arguing about the rent. Michael had already taken his valium and codiene, and Neville had also decided to have some valium. Apparently the bickering between the two men had been going on for some time, and Neville complained that Michael was constantly hassling him, or "dribbling in his ear" about money for rent, as well as for beer, pills and pot. Neighbours heard sounds of a struggle coming from the flat, as well as banging, yelling, swearing, and glass smashing. Someone called the police, who arrived to find Neville standing over Michael, trying to pour water over him. Michael had no pulse, and paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Police searched the flat and found the bathroom mirror smashed, and the towel rack pulled from the wall. Blood was all over both items, and splashed generally around the walls of the flat. An 80cm stick was also found on the bedroom floor. Neville's knuckles were bruised and scratched.

The post-mortem showed Michael had extensive injuries to his head, neck, arms, hands and lower back. The more serious injuries included haemorrhages on the surface of the brain, several cuts to the face, a broken nose and a broken rib. He also had bruising most likely caused by a rod or piece of wood. Michael's blood had substantial levels of codiene, morphine, valium, alcohol and cannabis.

Neville was interviewed at the Police Station, and said that Michael had punched him in the mouth during the argument about money, and he'd hit back. He said he'd lost control after Michael made a comment about Neville's father, who had hanged himself a few years earlier on Christmas Day. Neville had been the one to find the body and was naturally still quite distressed about this, harbouring a lot of anger towards his father. He said Michael had tried to counsel him a few times about this, but he was sick of people bringing it up.

After a trial in September 1997 Neville was convicted of murder and sentenced to 18 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 13 years and six months. Neville did not deny killing Michael, so the main issue at trial was provocation. If the Crown could not deny that provocation occurred beyond reasonable doubt, the jury would have to convict Michael of manslaughter instead of murder. However, the jury clearly decided that the combination of Michael's nagging about money, the punch in the mouth, and the alleged comment about his father's death were not enough, and returned a verdict of guilty of murder. Because we never know what goes on in the jury room, we cannot say whether they disbelieved Neville's evidence, particularly about the comment regarding his father's death, or whether they merely thought his combined actions were not enough to warrant him being killed.

Neville appealed the conviction, claiming that the way the Judge directed the jury before they retired to consider their verdict encouraged them to think Michael's comments were not provocative enough to justify Neville's response. However an examination of the trial transcript showed that this was not the case.

Neville also appealed his sentence, on the grounds that the Judge had not given enough consideration to his youth (he was in his 20's) and his rather deprived background, including violence at the hands of his father, the suicide, and the drug and alcohol abuse. Once more, the trial transcript showed that the Judge had taken these factors into account, and shortened his non-parole period accordingly. Although these aspects were mitigating features for Michael, they had to be balanced against the seriousness of the offence, which the Judge described as "one of the most hideous crimes of murder that I have encountered."

Neville Lees is due for release in February 2013.

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