Meth Addiction Used as Defense in Two Australian Murder Cases

By Paul Gaita 07/09/15

Families of the victims are calling on changes to the law that allow murders to use drug use as a defense.

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Concerns that the epidemic of meth addiction in Australia is fueling a rise in the country’s crime rate were heightened by two recent murder trials in which defendants blamed their actions on chronic use of the drug.

In May, Sydney resident Sean Lee King lost his bid to appeal his 25-year minimum sentence for the brutal murder of Jazmin-Jean Ajbschitz in 2011. King initially pled not guilty to the charge on the grounds that his addiction to use had impaired his judgment to the degree that he “couldn’t form an intention to kill.”

A jury disagreed, and at a recent appeal hearing Justice Geoffrey Bellew confirmed the decision, noting that King had failed to undergo rehabilitation and continued to use ice despite knowing that the drug made him violent.

Given the violent nature of the crime—King stomped and kicked Ajbschitz to such a degree that an expert testified that her injuries were similar to those involved in high-speed car crashes—Bellew declared that the sentence was not excessive.

The King case preceded another high-profile murder trial that involved ice use as a motivating factor in a homicide. Nelson Lai, 35, was convicted on a charge of manslaughter after shooting his girlfriend, Rekiah O’Donnell, 22, in a haze caused by five straight days of using meth.

Despite testimony that he had regularly beaten and threatened O’Donnell while under the influence of meth during their 14-month relationship, a Supreme Court jury acquitted Lai on murder charges and instead handed down a lesser charge of manslaughter. The sentencing phase of the trial has already begun and Lai faces up to 20 years in prison.

Both the families of victims like Ajbschitz and O’Donnell, as well as prosecutors, are calling for a change to laws that allow convicted murderers to claim intoxication and addiction as a defense for their actions.

“We should have a sort of provision that if you take [drugs] voluntarily and do something, you are responsible for it,” said criminal lawyer Sam Macedone. “You can’t come to court and say, ‘It was a drug-induced psychosis, I wouldn’t have done it if not affected by drug use' as a mitigating excuse.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.