Judges: jailed dad lucky
A Putaruru father convicted of manslaughter after the death of his baby daughter was lucky not to have gone to jail for longer, Court of Appeal judges have suggested.
The 12-year jail term imposed on Joshua Chris Woodcock, 25, for the death of three-month-old Sarah Haddock-Woodcock in 2005 was ‘‘stern’’ but not excessive for such conduct against a baby, Crown lawyer Madeleine Laracy said in written submissions as an appeal by Woodcock was heard in Wellington yesterday.
The court of three judges reserved its decision on Woodcock’s appeal against both his manslaughter conviction and the jail term. But at the end of the hearing, two of them said Woodcock may have been lucky on both counts.
Justice Harrison said the manslaughter verdict as opposed to being found guilty of murder was a credit to the quality of his trial lawyer Jonathan Temm.
Justice Chambers said Woodcock was probably lucky that the 12-year term was not subject to a non-parole order.
A judge can order a prisoner to serve up to two-thirds of the sentence before being considered for parole but did not make such an order in Woodcock’s case.
The jury had heard that Sarah’s death was caused by a fractured skull but a pathologist found other injuries including eight fractured ribs.
Woodcock was found guilty of manslaughter, causing grievous bodily harm, neglect, and a series of assaults on Sarah. He was 19 when she died.
The main ground of Woodcock’s conviction appeal was that the jury may not have tried hard enough to reach unanimous verdicts before returning an 11-1 verdict on the manslaughter charge. Majority verdicts were introduced in June last year.
Lawyer Warren Pyke said the trial judge had not stressed enough that the jury should try to reach unanimous verdicts, and the judge should have steered away from mentioning majority verdicts during his summing up.
But Ms Laracy said there was no risk that the jury would have thought it did not have to reach a unanimous verdict. She said jurors were told unambiguously to reach unanimous verdicts unless directed otherwise.
Woodcock’s sentence appeal was mainly based on a submission that the judge appeared to have ‘‘ double counted’’ and added extra for the earlier assaults on Sarah as well as taking them into account when fixing the term for the manslaughter.
The Crown agreed there appeared to be an element of double-counting in the way the judge expressed himself but the end result was in fact the proper sentence.
Woodcock had originally signalled an appeal point, based on twice during the trial it appeared members of the jury were asleep. However, for the hearing it was conceded that any dozing or inattention by jurors did not extend through the trial.