On Tuesday 8 March 2011, Justice Joseph Williams sentenced Rikki Leigh Scott Ngatai-Check, 23, to life imprisonment, with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years, for kicking a two-year old toddler to death for wetting his pants. Seventeen years before he can even apply for parole. That’s pretty strong these days, when our penal systems are organised on the precept that all criminals are basically good guys, who need only TLC and rehabilitation to set them right, in spite of our appalling rate of criminal recidivism.
The sentence is deservedly strong. Here is the shocking sequence of events, transcribed from the NZ Herald report:
The murderer was in charge of the little boy, who slept on the couch while Ngatai-Check spotted cannabis with a friend. The boy woke up wet.
Ngatai-Check spun the child around, slamming him into a coffee table. The impact broke the child’s ribs, causing internal bleeding. The caring killer took the wounded boy to the toilet and left him there, while he went to the bedroom to play video games.
Five or ten minutes later, the boy came into the bedroom, trailing toilet paper. Ngatai-Check sat up and planted a roundhouse style kick in the boy’s stomach, tearing internal tissue. Then he kicked him again, ramming him against the wardrobe door. This time the impact split the boy’s pancreas.
Ngatai-Check then took the boy to hospital, where he died.
One might expect the judge’s words to be at least as strong as the sentence. One would be wrong. This is what Justice Joseph Williams said:
“You did a monstrous thing, but I do not think you are a monster. No one says you intended to kill Karl”.
Noting that Ngatai-Check had no previous history of violent behaviour, the judge said the stress of his hidden relationship was possibly made worse on the day because “you probably didn’t want baby Karl dumped on you again and just wanted to chill out”. Moreover, Justice Williams said beatings from a stepfather when he was young had taught Ngatai-Check that children should “harden up”. The judge noted further that in later years Ngatai-Check had been in the shadows of the Wanganui drug and gang scene, which normalised brutality. There, “violence is not just OK, it is downright cool”.
But the judge said there were “sadly too many cases like this”, in which adults abused the trust of vulnerable children – some much worse than Ngatai-Check’s. He also stressed that the mandatory 17-year non-parole period was introduced by Parliament as a reminder that “these little people are at our mercy. We can so easily kill them”.
In NZ, murder means unlawful deliberate homicide. Intent must be established to the satisfaction of the jury for a murder conviction to be obtained. Yet here we have a sentencing judge who states that the killer, poor little Rikki Ngatai-Check, did not intend the killing, that he is a victim of his upbringing and gang lifestyle, wanted nothing more sinister than to chill out, and is receiving the heavy sentence only because an act of parliament made it mandatory!
What on earth is the judge thinking of? All I can offer is a very astute quote from a Daily Telegraph blog posting by a British journalist, James Delingpole:
“We no longer understand or value our civilisation; indeed many of us feel rather embarrassed about it. We have been taught to view all our great historical achievements through a filter of post-colonial guilt; we have learned the weasel art of cultural relativism where, in their own special way, cultures that practise female circumcision and bury homosexuals under walls are just as vibrant, valid and meaningful as the one that gave us Michelangelo, penicillin and the splitting of the atom; we’ve been persuaded that elitism and authority are undesirable”.
Judges like Williams may be part of the reason that Parliament found it necessary to impose a seventeen-year minimum parole period for child-murderers. I am sad that it was necessary, but glad they did so. Frankly, I wish they would do so for all murders.