The man who drove a stolen car through Bourke Street mall, killing six people and seriously injuring 27 in 2017, was sentenced by the Victorian Supreme Court on 22 February 2019. Justice Weinberg called it one of the ‘worst examples of mass murder’ in Australia’s history and ordered James Gargasoulas to serve six concurrent life sentences. He will be eligible to apply for parole in 46 years.
Background of the offending
Gargasoulas pleaded not guilty to six counts of murder and 27 counts of reckless conduct endangering life. He was found guilty by a jury after a five day trial.
On the 20 January 2017, Gargasoulas drove a Holden Commodore stolen from a family member into the pedestrian only Bourke Street mall, deliberately mowing down pedestrians who were walking through the mall. 27 people were struck and suffered physical and psychological injuries. Six people were killed, two of whom were children.
Gargasoulas was apprehended by police and tested positive for amphetamines, barbiturates and benzodiazepines.
Background of Gargasoulas
During December 2016 and January 2017, Gargasoulas was suffering from drug induced psychosis. He had a history of using, as well as trafficking in, methamphetamine, cannabis and ice. However, a drug induced psychosis is not a mental illness for the purpose of a mental impairment defence.
During late 2016 and early 2017, Gargasoulas began expressing bizarre ideas, saying that he had ‘the God gene’ and that he was required to contact ‘Aboriginal royalty.’ His acquaintances described him as a changed person during this period. He became increasingly paranoid and believed that a comet would soon destroy the earth.
Gargasoulas had been released on bail on other charges on 14 January 2017.
In the early hours of the morning of the offending, Gargonzoulos took ice and stabbed his brother repeatedly in the head and chest in an unprovoked attack with a kitchen knife. Police tried to apprehend him on Punt Road but he sped away from them. He told a friend of his intention to ‘do something drastic’ and that he would see him ‘tonight on the news’. He was trailed by police later in the morning, reaching the central business district, where the police lost sight of him. He began doing burnouts at the intersection of Flinders and Swanston streets, yelling and taunting onlookers and police. He then drove from Swanston Street towards Bourke Street, pursued by police.
In his evidence to the court, Gargasoulas claimed to have been largely unaware of what was happening as he drove towards Bourke Street. The court rejected that evidence and found that he knew what he was doing and knew that he was likely to kill or seriously injure people. He was aged 27 at the time.
Gargasoulas had completed year 11 but been unemployed for most of his life. He had been raised by his father, who was physically violent towards him and his brother. He had five children to three different mothers. He moved back in with his mother in October 2016, but soon moved back out and began sleeping in his car. He had an extensive criminal history, including violent offences, thefts and driving offences.
After coming into custody, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Gargasoulas was sentenced as a serious violent offender. The court considered his mental health issues, the impact of the offending on the victims and the appropriateness of setting a non-parole period.
The defence submitted that Gargasoulas’s culpability was reduced by his state of mind at the time of the offending. Mental functioning must be taken into account at sentencing based on a number of principles, namely:
- Mental impairment reduces the relevance of general deterrence as a sentencing principle;
- Mental impairment can moderate or eliminate specific deterrence in the same way;
- The existence of a mental illness may mean the sentence imposed will be harder on the offender than it would be on a person without the illness;
- Imprisonment may worsen the offender’s mental health.
The prosecution submitted that Gargasoulas’ impaired mental functioning should be given little weight as it was primarily the result of his voluntary consumption of ice.
Expert evidence was given to the court that Gargasoulas’ schizophrenia did not develop until after the offending and that on the day of the offending, despite being delusional and drug affected, he was aware of what he was doing.
The court found that Gargasoulas’ mental state at the time of the offending could not be taken as a significant mitigating factor. However, it found that his condition at the time of sentencing would make his time in prison harder and that this ought to be taken into consideration.
The defence submitted that a non-parole period should be set despite the seriousness of the offending. The prosecution submitted that no non-parole period should be set and that Gargasoulas should spend the rest of his life in prison. The court noted that due to his young age, that could mean up to 60 years in prison.
In consideration of his young age and his mental health condition, the court imposed six concurrent life sentences, as well as concurrent custodial terms for each count of reckless endangerment, with a non-parole period of 46 years.
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