Man who murdered infant son loses High Court appeal against sentence

Man who murdered infant son loses High Court appeal against sentence

[The facts of this case are explicit]

A man who murdered his infant son has lost a High Court of Justiciary appeal against the length of the punishment part of his life sentence.

Lukasz Czapla was given a punishment part of 23 years by the sentencing judge, which he argued to be excessive due to his mental state at the time the murder was committed.

The appeal was heard by Lord Matthews, Lord Tyre, and Lord Boyd. Macara KC appeared for the appellant and E Campbell, advocate, for the respondent.

Acted out of spite

On the night of 20 November 2020, the child was staying with the appellant for the weekend per an arrangement he had with the child’s mother, his ex-partner. The appellant professed to be concerned that the child was not being properly looked after by his ex-partner, but he was also jealous that she was in a new relationship. The two exchanged text messages which began amicably but later his messages became abusive when his ex-partner discussed introducing the child to a new friend of hers.

The appellant consumed beer and at least one bottle of wine as well as a very large quantity of anti-depressants that had been prescribed to him. According to his account, his intention was to commit suicide but because he was concerned about his son waking to find his body and being left with a mother who abused and neglected him, he resolved to kill his son. He first shot the child with ball bearings, but when this did not kill him, he stabbed him in the chest with a skewer and then smothered him.

At trial there was conflicting evidence from three psychiatrists as to the appellant’s mental state and whether he had diminished responsibility, with the jury finding him guilty of murder. When sentencing the appellant, the judge remarked that he had acted out of spite and had shown considerable determination to ensure that the child died. He did not regard the appellant’s depression as a particularly compelling mitigating factor given what he did, and it had not been suggested that his depression was severe.

It was acknowledged by the appellant that the jury had rejected his special defence of diminished responsibility, however counsel submitted that it was clear he had been suffering from depression in the four-month period leading up to the murder. He had acted out of character not only in committing the fatal attack but also in consuming the quantity of alcohol and drugs that he had, and the judge ought to have taken that into account when sentencing him.

Desire to punish

Lord Tyre, delivering the opinion of the court, observed: “The appeal proceeds on the basis that the appellant suffered from a depressed state of mind that caused him to consume excessive alcohol and antidepressant drugs and then, while his reasoning was impaired, to kill his son. It will be apparent from what we have quoted from the judge’s remarks and report that he did not accept that this was established by the evidence. Rather, he considered that the appellant’s primary motivation was a spiteful desire to punish his ex-partner.”

On whether the judge was entitled to do this, he said: “There was a conflict of views among the consultant psychiatrists. Even when the psychiatrists were expressing views that the appellant suffered from depressive illness or emotionally unstable personality disorder, they acknowledged that they did so on the assumption that the appellant was telling them the truth. There was no requirement for either the judge or the jury to make that assumption.”

He continued: “The jury rejected the contention that the appellant had had diminished responsibility. That appears to us to leave very little room for a contention that the appellant nevertheless suffered from a mental disorder that caused him to behave out of character to the extent of committing a horrific and sustained assault on his two year old son. We consider that there was ample evidence to justify the approach to sentencing adopted by the judge, namely that the primary cause of the child’s murder was a desire on the part of the appellant to inflict pain on his ex-partner, and not any form of depressive disorder.”

Lord Tyre concluded: “The remaining question is whether a period of 23 years was nevertheless too long. We conclude that the circumstances of this case as summarised by the trial judge: the attack on the appellant’s sleeping son; the cruelty and determination with which the killing was carried out; the child’s distress; and the appellant’s persistence in ensuring that he died, justify a punishment part in excess of the 20-year guidance provided by Boyle v HM Advocate (2010). In all the circumstances we do not consider that a punishment part of 23 years fell outwith the range reasonably open to the sentencing judge.”

The appeal against sentence was therefore refused.

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