Punishment part of 20 years was ‘not excessive’ for sex change murderer, appeal court rules

A woman who was jailed for a minimum of 20 years after being found guilty of murdering a vulnerable neighbour has had an appeal against the sentence imposed refused.

The main ground of appeal concerned the appellant’s medical and mental condition and the fact that she had undergone gender reassignment, but the Criminal Appeal Court ruled that the trial judge had considered her personal circumstances and that the punishment part selected was “not excessive”.

Lady Smith and Lady Clark of Calton (pictured) heard that the appellant Melissa Madeline Young was convicted following a trial of the murder of Alan Williamson on Christmas Day 2013, after confining him in his flat against his will and stabbing him 29 times on the body with a knife.

It was not disputed that the appellant killed Mr Williamson, but the major issue at trial was whether or not the appellant was suffering from diminished responsibility at the time of the offence.

The trial judge explained that six consultant psychiatrists gave evidence and all of them agreed that the appellant was suffering from a “severe personality disorder”, but the jury concluded that her conduct was “not substantially impaired” at the time.

The main submission advanced in support of the appeal was the fact that the appellant had undergone gender reassignment in 2002 and the fact that she had been diagnosed as suffering from a personality disorder, having previously been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Counsel for the appellant conceded that a life sentence was “unavoidable” on the basis of the verdict of the jury, but submitted that the length of the punishment part should have been “modified” to reflect the “particular vulnerability” of the appellant.

It was argued that because of her unique history and difficulties, the appellant would be more vulnerable in prison.

The trial judge should have reflected that in his selection of the punishment part, it was submitted, though counsel accepted that the trial judge was not provided with any evidence of vulnerability of the appellant in a prison setting in the evidence.

However, the appeal judges noted that at the end of the trial, after the Crown moved for sentence and submitted a schedule of previous convictions and victim statement forms, the solicitor advocate then instructed to represent the appellant made no submissions in mitigation.

They also noted that no submission was made to the trial judge that the appellant was, because of her gender reassignment and mental health problems, more vulnerable within the prison environment.

Explaining the court’s reasons for refusing the appeal, Lady Clark of Calton said: “The trial judge considered that the evidence demonstrated that the considerable violence was not spontaneous, and included a total of 29 stab wounds. He concluded that the appellant intended to use extreme violence and we consider that he was entitled to do so.

“The trial judge did not ignore or fail to give relevant weight to her personal circumstances, including her psychiatric history. The appellant’s history of mental and personality disorders and her involvement with medical and psychiatric professionals were explored in detail at the trial and did not persuade the jury that she was of diminished responsibility at the relevant time.

“The starting point for the trial judge was, accordingly, that the appellant was to be sentenced on the basis that she was as responsible for the death of the deceased as any other person convicted of murder.”

The judges added that there were cases where the impact of imprisonment could be considered particularly severe and the punishment part may be mitigated to some extent due to a person’s personal circumstances.

“However, there was nothing placed before the trial judge which could have justified such an approach and there is nothing in the new information put before us to support the assertion that the appellant’s gender reassignment and / or the state of her mental health will increase her vulnerability in prison,” Lady Clark added.

The judges concluded that punishment part imposed was “necessary to satisfy the requirements for retribution and deterrence”.

Delivering the opinion of the court, Lady Clark said: “We consider that the circumstances of this case, including the number of knife wounds, the location and depth of the wounds, the sustained brutality of the unprovoked attack to a defenceless victim locked in her house by the appellant, the absence of remorse and the appellant’s previous criminal record clearly demonstrate that the punishment part selected by the trial judge is not excessive.”

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