Murderer of Aberdeen woman loses appeal against sentence

Lord Carloway
Lord Carloway

The murderer of Aberdeen-born woman Neomi Smith, who was also convicted of minor assaults and behaving in an abusive or threatening manner towards her, has had his appeal against his sentence refused.

Keith Rizzo, who was the deceased’s partner at the time, argued that the sentence imposed on him was excessive in light of his age. At the time of the offences the appellant was 23 years old.

The appeal was heard in the Appeal Court of the High Court of Justiciary by the Lord Justice GeneralLord Carloway, sitting with Lord Glennie and Lord Turnbull.

Expected to conform

The three charges of which the appellant was convicted were the assault of Ms Smith at the couple’s flat in Brechin, behaving in an abusive or threatening manner towards her at Hudson’s Bar in the city following the Angus Agricultural Show, and then murdering her by forcing entry to the flat, inflicting blunt force trauma to her head, compressing her neck, and repeatedly striking her with knives.

Each of the three charges was aggravated by the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Abuse (Scotland) Act 2016 due to being committed against the appellant’s partner. A life sentence was imposed by the trial judge at the appellant’s sentencing hearing in April 2020, with a punishment part of 22 years.

During the trial, evidence was led in respect of a number of other charges upon which the Crown did not ultimately seek a conviction that the appellant was jealous, manipulative and controlling. Alcohol was said to play a part in all three of the charges on which he was convicted.

On the night of Ms Smith’s murder, following the incident in the bar described in another charge, the deceased locked herself in their flat, leaving the key in the door. The appellant forced his way in, and later messaged a WhatsApp group at 1:22am saying that the deceased was dead. The appellant did not contact the emergency services, which he claimed was because he could not find his phone.

The appellant was described by the trial judge as showing no remorse during the trial. He maintained his innocence throughout by advancing “diverse and fanciful” accounts of the night in question. He had one previous conviction for domestic assault, for which he had been fined £500. The Criminal Justice Social Work report described him as emotionally detached when discussing the offence.

The trial judge regarded the appellant as possessive and manipulative, expecting partners to conform to his expectations. In sentencing him she took into account the aggravation from the domestic setting of the murder and stated that she believed him to be dangerous.

On appeal it was submitted for the appellant that, while there should be a lengthy punishment part in these circumstances, rehabilitation could not operate successfully if the appellant would be in his mid-forties before he could apply for parole. Without any hope of when and how he might contribute to society in the future, any self-drive to rehabilitate on the appellant’s part would be diminished.

Exceptionally brutal

The opinion of the court was delivered by Lord Carloway. He began: “This was an exceptionally brutal murder on a young woman who had done nothing other than attempt to enjoy herself on the day of the annual Angus show .The murder was premeditated in the sense that whatever had happened in Hudson’s Bar had long since passed before the appellant broke into the flat and attacked his partner. Apart from the relative youth of the appellant at the time, there were no mitigating features.”

On the setting of the punishment part of a life sentence, he said: “The focus is on determining a period which satisfies ‘the requirements for retribution and deterrence’. In the current prison and parole regime, and depending no doubt on the offender’s attitude and conduct in prison, that rehabilitation will not commence only when the punishment part has expired. It ought to have started, in the form of courses, family and community visits, and ultimately the open prison regime, well in advance of that date.”

He continued: “The process may be a long and gradual one, but its content ought to provide some prospect of reform at a relatively early stage of the custodial term. Whether that will be the position with the appellant remains to be seen.”

Referring to other cases, such as Davidson v HM Advocate (2019) where lengthy punishment parts were imposed on young men, he concluded: “Although the punishment part is a severe one, such a sentence is appropriate for this type of brutal killing even by a man in his early twenties. Particular attention must be paid to the domestic aggravation. Having regard to the circumstances, all of which the trial judge took into account, the court is not satisfied that the punishment part can be regarded as excessive.”

For these reasons, the appeal was refused.

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2020

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