7 Aug 2014

Family's anger and grief disrupt sentencing

8:58 pm on 7 August 2014

Stephen Dudley's father could only contain his anger and grief for so long.

On Thursday, Brent Dudley erupted as the Chief High Court judge, Justice Winkelmann discharged his son's attacker without conviction.

Stephen Dudley was only 15 when he was bashed.

The West Auckland teenager died after a fight after a school rugby practice.

He had a pre-existing heart condition.

Assault with intent to injure

An 18-year-old with permanent name suppression was due to be sentenced after admitting a charge of assault with intent to injure.

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Photo: 123RF

Instead, Justice Winkelmann found the consequences of a conviction for the teenager would outweigh the seriousness of the crime.

Mr Dudley swore and called the justice system a joke.

He told Justice Winkelmann that she was actually sentencing his family, not the teenager.

Later, he said the judge's decision piled insult on insult.

The Dudley family left the court before Justice Winkelmann had finished her sentencing.

Earlier, they had given emotional victim impact statements.

Stephen's mother Mona Dudley - who was herself awarded a discharge without conviction after accidentally shooting her husband in the chest last December - spoke of being hospitalised for stress.

"From the actions you did on that day in June. I have never felt so robbed of my heart and soul. I feel that your actions on that day were a cowardly act and brutal act of intending to hurt Stephen."

'The guilt is yours'

Brent Dudley told the 18 year old that he could not forgive him.

"I hold you entirely responsible for the death of our son. The guilt is yours, you own it."

Stephen's older sister, Talita, said she was proud of her brother who was a rock for his younger siblings.

"We hope you can understand the full extent of the grief and hurt you have contributed to and caused so in your life you will be make better choices for yourself and others in future.

"For us we just have memories now of a brother and young man who was such an important part of our lives."

She said her brother's life was unfairly cut short.

Crown prosecutor Kieran Raftery had opposed a discharge without conviction.

He told the court the 18 year-old was two and-a-half years older than Stephen and if he hadn't attacked the 15 year old, he might still be alive.

He said the blow to Stephen's head was unprovoked and there were more punches when he was on the ground.

Mr Raftery said there needed to be a deterrent to other young people resorting to violence.

Career hopes as PE teacher

For the teenager, lawyer John Munro said his client was sorry and had spoken to young people at his church.

He had also offered to take part in a restorative justice meeting and ifoga - a Samoan custom where the family of the offender waits outside the house of the victim and begs their forgiveness - but the Dudley family rejected that.

He said his client hoped to be a PE teacher and a conviction could harm his chances of working with children.

In sentencing, Justice Winkelmann said Stephen's undiagnosed heart condition made him vulnerable to traumatic stress and it was impossible to tell what had caused his death.

"I do not take into account the fact that Stephen died after the fight.

"There is no suggestion that any of the blows struck caused injury, in and of themselves.

"Assessed in that light, these were punches thrown in the context of a schoolyard fight."

The 18 year old had faced a charge of manslaughter but that was downgraded due to Stephen's pre-existing heart condition.

Justice Winkelmann also cited a report from a psychologist which said the brains of adolescent boys were not fully developed until 19 and when this was combined with high-levels of testosterone, it made for poor decision-making.

Impact on aspirations

Justice Winkelmann said a conviction for violence could have a huge impact on the teenager's hopes and aspirations.

She cited a report from a psychologist which said the brains of adolescent boys are not fully developed until 19 and when this is combined with high-levels of testosterone, it makes for poor decision making.

"Nothing in these sentencing notes should be taken as an endorsement of your actions.

"Fights amongst school children may be common, but that does not mean that we should tolerate them as a society.

"Every act of violence carries with it the risk of unexpected, even grave harm. All too often the Courts deal with the consequences of a single blow causing serious injury and even death. It may well be that schools should provide education as to the risks of fighting."

Another teenager, aged 16, has already admitted assaulting Stephen Dudley and he was also discharged without conviction.