Heather du Plessis-Allan: Lorraine Smith's light sentence matches her crime

Author
Heather du Plessis-Allan,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 7 August 2019, 4:54PM
Lorraine Smith in the dock during her sentencing, for the murder of her 13-year-old granddaughter, in the High Court at Wellington. (Photo / Mark Mitchell)

I think we can all admit: 12 years for murder is a light sentence. Because what it usually means is the person is possibly out in six.

But, in this case, the sentence was probably about right.

You might’ve been following this case of Whanganui grandmother Lorraine Smith who murdered her own granddaughter 13-year-old Kalis Manaia-Smith.

On the day of the murder Lorraine and Kalis had been fighting, by the sounds of things all day. So that night, Lorraine asked her granddaughter to come outside,  and help her shut the windows in the sleepout.

On the way out the door she took a tie from the kitchen table, and in the sleep out she pulled Kalis’ hoodie over her face, wrapped the tie around her neck and strangled her to death.

She called Kalis’ father, told him something had happened, and then called the police and admitted what she’d done

I know there will be people who say 12 years is too light, but I’d like to encourage us to try looking at this through the eyes of the judge who sentenced this woman.

He gave her six years because he thought a life sentence would be ‘manifestly unjust’. The judge said she’d had an ‘extremely difficult life’ and carried a ‘heavy burden’.

She spent her life caring for her family, from what I understand includes other grandkids, at the expense of her own mental health.

Pressures had mounted to the point that she’d murdered one of those very people she was looking after. Justice Cooke called it "carer burnout". He said the circumstances overwhelmed Lorraine.

You know what I reckon part of this is? Gender bias.

We’ve talked about that on this show before, that women get lighter sentences than men. The reason for that is maybe because we think of women as more empathetic and less threatening physically.

When we last talked about it on the show, something defence lawyer Marie Dyhrberg QC suggested stuck with me. Maybe the answer isn’t to sentence women like men, maybe the answer is to sentence men like women.

Because sometimes people aren’t actually bad. Things just go badly wrong, and the punishment should reflect that, just as this one does.

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