A heart-breaking interview raises hard questions about what to do with the worst of the worst criminals

Tony Robertson is a one percenter. Not the rich kind, but the destructive and callous kind. "Evil"? Maybe. But surely one of this country's highest risk offenders. And we don't seem to have the system to handle these people.

If you haven't seen Lisa Owen's heart-wrenching interview with Blessie Gotingco's husband Antonio, then you're missing one of the most powerful statements I've seen for a long time on what it means to be a victim of crime. It sketches the grief of a husband very much in love with his wife, the considered anger of a dignified man, someone who speaks English as a second language but who can say so articulately that authorities "have blood on their hands" and "issued a death warrant for my wife" because they put "a snake in a hen house".

He raises uncomfortable questions but, most of all, seems to make it impossible to be able to stand by the conclusion of the government-ordered report into Blessie's death that judged "Robertson and only Robertson" was responsible.

Logic demands that there are few, if any, times when there is only one cause for any outcome in life, let alone any crime. From poverty to victory, war to peace, I can hardly think of a single event that doesn't stem from many causes. It's a foolish finding, especially so when you're talking about the death of a woman by a monitored high risk offender.

Gotingco's now taking Corrections to court for the wrongful death of Blessie, the insurance consultant and mother of three raped and killed in 2014 after she was run down by Tony Robertson, as she walked home form the bus stop.

Now I'm a big believer in forgiveness and redemption. I tend to think released offenders have paid their debt to society and deserve the chance to prove they can again be good citizens. But for a grace of God...

However it seems hard to avoid the conclusion that there are some people so damaged and dangerous that they will always present a risk to public safety. Those one percent who could re-offend at any time.

I'm reluctant to lock people up because we think they'll probably offend, as some suggest. So how do we deal with them? Those determined by the experts to be at a high risk of reoffending? 

Victims advocate Ruth Money had some suggestions though, on The Nation, that seem to make some sense.

  • Stricter enforcement of breaches. Robertson was convicted twice for breaching his supervision orders and warned once more, but got treated lightly (time served - five weeks - and a community service). The suggestion is to come down harder early.
  • Live GPS monitoring. Since Robertson Corrections have switched providers and now 170 high risk offenders are subject to an alert going off at the 3M control centre if they go outside their boundaries. Corrections is immediately contacted. But that's not quite live monitoring. For example, Robertson was driving up and down (presumably victim hunting) within his allowed zone, but no-one knew.
  • So, person-to-person monitoring. Someone watching these people 24/7.
These are expensive and intrusive solutions. But for the few, perhaps it's time to take these kind of measures, with the opportunity for them to earn their way out of it over time. Then there's the question of letting the community know when a high risk offender is in their midst. That's an even harder one for me. What risk public panic and fear? Vigilantism? Condemning a now free person to ongoing stigma? What can people constructively do with that knowledge? Yet in this case such knowledge could certainly have saved Blessie's life. Maybe, as Corrections Minister Judith Collins he was determined and would have killed someone else. But Blessie chose to take over time, work late, get the bus and walk home alone... all choices she may not have made had she known a high risk offender was one of her neighbours. 

These are brutal, tough choices, but then this was a must brutal murder. I'd be interested in your thoughts as to just how far we can or should go.

 

 

Comments (9)

by Charlie on May 21, 2016
Charlie

I put the blame squarely on bleeding-heart liberal lawyers and judges who have turned the judicial system into a joke.

It's obvious this man was a menace to society long ago when he first started offending. He should never have been let out.

So don't come along with your hang-wringing now..

Solution is patendly obvious: Real life sentences

 

 

by Ross on May 22, 2016
Ross

Gotingco's now taking Corrections to court for the wrongful death of Blessie

I don't think he's made that decision yet. It might be a difficult case to win, as Susan Couch's lawyers found, notwithstanding that Corrections settled for $300,000.

by Ross on May 22, 2016
Ross

These are expensive and intrusive solutions.

Any solution is expensive but what price a human life? Preventive detention is an option and was an option in this case before Robertson murdered. Alas a judge thought he should eventually be freed. 

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/70870674/blessies-killer-one-of-ne...

by Peggy Klimenko on May 22, 2016
Peggy Klimenko

"....it seems hard to avoid the conclusion that there are some people so damaged and dangerous that they will always present a risk to public safety."

From what we know thus far, Robertson seems to be one of the dangerous rather than damaged; nobody would know about him until he offended. And his early offending would probably not have attracted the kind of psychological assessment needed to show up what's wrong with him. Although the crimes that landed him 8 years in prison certainly did. It seems Bridges' advocacy of preventive detention was spot on.

"Alas a judge thought he should eventually be freed."

The judiciary does tend toward giving adolescents the benefit of the doubt, because their youth and greater brain plasticity allows for increased likelihood of redemption. And of course, in many cases it's true: young people who do really stupid stuff, but are rehabilitated and don't go on to reoffend.

However, Robertson had committed sex crimes, a fortiori child sex crimes. With such offenders, the justice system needs to be much more inclined to err on the side of preventive detention. I'm not sure what services are available for such difficult individuals, or how efficacious they are.

Ruth Money's right about stricter enforcement of parole/supervision breaches. Robertson's isn't the only case in recent times where the courts' leniency over such breaches has had tragic consequences.

In my view, the evidence suggests that the justice system doesn't take seriously violent and sex crimes, in particular against women and children. I know that they say they do, but how they deal with offenders says otherwise. And over the years I've lost count of the cases that illustrate it. Robertson's offending is the most recent that comes to mind - though in truth it probably isn't the most recent. There'll be another, and another.... we just haven't heard about them yet.

by Antoine on May 23, 2016
Antoine

> I'm reluctant to lock people up because we think they'll probably offend, as some suggest.

Maybe you should re examine this view, at that point the conundrum might suddenly become a lot simpler

A.

by Fentex on May 23, 2016
Fentex

Logic demands that there are few, if any, times when there is only one cause for any outcome in life, let alone any crime.

Cause is not responsibility. 

As a cleaner responsible for clearing a spill need not have caused it someone accidentally spilling a poison may not have the skill or equipment to be responsible for clearing it.

I don't know the details of this matter but I wouldn't confuse people doing their jobs and fulfilling their duties though possible causes of opportunity with responsibility for someone else's actions.

These are expensive and intrusive solutions. But for the few, perhaps it's time to take these kind of measures, with the opportunity for them to earn their way out of it over time.

Absolutely pointless if your predicate is that these are people so evil they will offend when they have the chance. If you are convinced of that there is only one option - permanently removing their opportunity.

Your predicates lead to limited options - executing or permanently imprisoning people committing serious offences who are thought likely to seriously offend again by/and/or reducing the threshold for preventative detention.

That IS the stricter enforcement of breaches you write of. The only other option you mention with a hope of having saved Blessie was permanent observation which basically is permanent imprisoning only with a wistful, wishful, fantasy of affording it outside of a prison.

I'm a big believer in forgiveness and redemption. I tend to think released offenders have paid their debt to society and deserve the chance to prove they can again be good citizens.

Then you're in a bind. You can't have that and protection from those who will re-offend. You'll have to for go your forgiveness if you prefer security.

by Fentex on May 23, 2016
Fentex

You'll have to for go your forgiveness if you prefer security.

My opinion on the matter is that we can't escape all evil in the world and we must choose what is best for the most. Providing the opportunity for forgiveness prevents setting us against each other and has proven best for some time in enabling peaceful life.

Here's an interesting philosophical question; If we improve our understanding of psychology to the point of having confidence in predicting who can and cannot be trusted then there's no point in waiting for someone's second offence when we can predict their first - would it be moral to restrict their freedoms on the basis of our prediction their not having committed any crime?

by Lee Churchman on May 23, 2016
Lee Churchman

Here's an interesting philosophical question; If we improve our understanding of psychology to the point of having confidence in predicting who can and cannot be trusted then there's no point in waiting for someone's second offence when we can predict their first - would it be moral to restrict their freedoms on the basis of our prediction their not having committed any crime?

I'm guessing the answer is yes, since the usual objection to that line of thought is that people should only be punished in retrospect because they were free to choose other than they in fact did. But if we could accurately predict what someone will do, it would make little sense to say that they were free to choose otherwise. 

Of course, we don't have to lock them all up. Given a reasonable understanding of the role one's environment plays in choice making, it would be more humane to remove the circumstances in which people are likely to fall into crime. 

As an aside, I went to school with Jason Somerville the Christchurch double murderer. He was the worst case of child abuse I ever saw. I don't think he should ever be released (he was fixated on murder a long time before he acted upon it – creeping out a couple of my sister's friends some years before – so it's now ingrained in him), but had he been properly protected against abuse and bullying as a child, I doubt he would have become a killer.

by Peggy Klimenko on May 24, 2016
Peggy Klimenko

"....since the usual objection to that line of thought is that people should only be punished in retrospect because they were free to choose other than they in fact did."

The more we learn about the effects of environment on brain development and architecture, it seems to me, the less confidently we can assert that people are free to choose.

Your observations about Jason Somerville are interesting; given the effects on his brain of childhood abuse and bullying, could he be said to have freedom to choose to act other than he did?

Although with Tony Robinson, there doesn't seem to be any suggestion of childhood abuse to explain his perverted behaviour. But maybe he doesn't have real freedom to choose either, also for reasons of brain wiring. The psych report on him reads like he has psychopathic personality traits combined with deviant sexual preferences: not happy combination.

But it won't be just negative environments that influence brain development; people who've come out of families with unexceptionable child rearing practices may as a result be much less likely to commit crime. But can we say that they are freer to choose than the child terribly damaged by abuse?


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