A fortnight a ago in Perth, a convicted murderer was given a life sentence as punishment for his crime.
A self-proclaimed “assassin” who killed while he listened to his iPod has been jailed for life, to serve a minimum of 24 years, for the brutal stabbing murder of a man in his own home.
Stephen Michael Freeman, 27, turned himself in to police three weeks after fatally stabbing Alessio Di Risio up to 21 times in his unit in the Perth suburb of Tuart Hill in January last year.
He told police he “suited up” using overalls, gloves and a diver’s knife in preparation for the murder, and listened to his iPod as he carried out the killing.
Supreme Court Justice Peter Blaxell described Freeman’s actions as a “horrifically callous”, premeditated murder in which he showed no remorse, nor a clear motive. He said his casual attitude and the fact he took along an iPod was “simply unbelievable”.
Mr Di Risio’s mother, Jennifer, wept with joy at the verdict and thanked police seated with her and her family in court.
The sentence, a life sentence, was given with a minimum of 24 years to be served. This confused me, as I believed that a life sentence meant you were imprisoned for life. The Wikipedia confirms this:
Life imprisonment (also known as a life sentence, life-long incarceration or life incarceration) is a sentence of imprisonment for a serious crime under which the convicted person is to remain in jail for the rest of his or her life.
So why is the Western Australian judiciary handing out life sentences which are not life sentences?
The report “Life Imprisonment in Australia”, written by Ivan Potas of the Australian Institute of Criminology, investigates the history and current situation of life imprisonment in Australia:
As Marcus Clarke’s classic book For the Term of His Natural Life reminds us, life imprisonment occupies a special place in Australian penological history. But unlike the convicts of last century who received such a sentence, contemporary ‘lifers’ rarely end their days within prison walls.
It concludes with:
If there is a problem with the practice of releasing lifers it is that it fails to satisfy the principle of ‘truth in sentencing’ and invites the criticism that the imposition of a life sentence is nothing more than a sham designed to mislead a gullible public. There is some validity in this criticism and perhaps it is best met, not by ensuring that prisoners are never to be released, but by ensuring that only the very worst offenders are given this sentence. Inevitably this entails not only restricting the type of offences in respect of which life sentences may be imposed but also abolishing mandatory life sentences.
Better still, changing the label ‘life imprisonment’ to (for example) ‘imprisonment for an indeterminate duration’ might more honestly represent what is really intended by the sentence.