Good article in the Guardian about the murder of Ryder

At least some people somewhere care – god knows the Australian media hasn’t found this interesting enough to deal with (with a partial exception, the lousy four corners report which didn’t discuss the judgment at all). The Guardian has a very long article about the Ryder case and Alice Springs. It’s a very good article. And note how Will Storr actually writes about the judgement.

It became obvious that something extra-ordinary was going to happen when Chief Justice Brian Martin began his pre-sentencing remarks. Strewn among the clauses are the stentorian admonishments you’d expect – words like “drunk”, “stupid”, “violent” and “aggressive” – but in almost every moment that matters, Martin excuses the “relatively minor violence” he found took place.

He accepted that their motive for driving up and down the Todd was not to harass black people. Of Kloeden’s terrorising of campers, he said, “As your counsel put it, you were hooning. Another word is lairising” and that he “aimed to miss”. He absolved everyone but the driver for this, saying, “Mr Kloeden, I pause in this sequence to observe there is nothing in the material before me to suggest that anyone in the car suggested that you drive at or close to the camp. This was your decision alone.” He accepted the defence’s claim that there was “no sinister purpose” in their driving home to fetch the pistol: “You only wanted to have fun by firing it and making a loud noise as you drove around.” The racist abuse they shouted was downgraded to mere “abuse”. He accepted the defence’s bold claim that all of Ryder’s physical injuries could have been caused when he fell. Although he initially acknowledges that “it’s not known precisely what caused the bleeding” that killed Ryder, in the crucial “sentencing factors” section, he becomes absolute, saying: “The deceased was susceptible to dire consequences from minor trauma by reason of a pre-existing aneurysm. But for the bursting of the aneurysm, the deceased would have suffered relatively minor injuries and the offenders would have been guilty of an assault at the lower scale of seriousness for offences of assault.” He said: “None of you intended to cause serious harm”; that “each of you has always got on well with Aboriginal people. However, on this occasion your normal attitudes and standards of behaviour were pushed to the background.”

Before the trial, an editorial in the Centralian Advocate acknowledged the importance of what was about to happen: “Everyone knows this is a test case of Australian justice; a case where justice must be seen to be done. And in the Northern Territory a life sentence means life.” And life was exactly what Therese Ryder wanted: “I know blackfellas who have got 10 years for domestic abuse. I wanted them in prison for a long time.”

Because Justice Martin decided that none of Kloeden’s passengers had encouraged him to drive at the Aboriginals, he alone was found guilty of recklessly endangering life. Having already had their charge reduced from murder to manslaughter by recklessness, Martin found the five guilty of the even lesser crime of manslaughter “by negligence”. Announcing a further “reduction of your sentence by reason of your guilty plea and genuine remorse”, he gave them between 12 months and six years. With parole, they’ll be out in no more than four.

Alice Spring News revelled in the relief and glory that was reflected on their town: “Chief Justice Brian Martin’s findings on the ‘racial overtones’ of the killing of Kwementyaye stop well short of the ‘race crime’ treatment of the story by many media.” And they were right – his comment on the matter reads like a masterpiece of stuttering reticence: “It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the actions of some offenders were influenced… at least to some degree, by the fact that the deceased was an Aboriginal person.”

UPDATE: I think it’s a bit of a shame Chris Graham wasn’t credited in the story, such as about the white supremacist selling white power t-shirts, and Graham’s interview with him. It may be because of legal reasons suppressing his name.

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