Last year, we covered the story of Lewis Daynes, a 19 year old computer engineer. Late last year, Daynes (18 at the time of the offence) pleaded guilty to the murder of Breck Bednar, a 14 year old boy. Breck was found stabbed to death after stating that he was going out for a sleepover with a friend.
Lewis Daynes and Breck Bednar met via an online gaming site; they spoke via software that operated like a telephone conference call. Over time, Daynes manipulated Breck and Breck’s personality began to change. Aware that Breck had been conversing with a person online, Breck’s mother had expressed concerns about the influence that the person had had on his personality, and in due course contacted the police.
Subsequently, Breck got into a taxi, paid for by Daynes, and travelled to Daynes’ flat in Grays. Daynes had given Breck instructions as to what to tell his parents, telling him to tell them that he was going to stay the night at a 14 year old friend’s house (using a false name).
Breck was murdered by Daynes at his flat; Daynes telephoned the emergency services the following morning, giving a false account as to what had happened.
Daynes claimed his victim had grabbed a penknife on morning of 17 December and had tried to attack him after “losing control”. He said he had stabbed Breck “in the back of the neck, near the brain stem” and the struggle had ended with Daynes cutting Breck’s throat.
But when police arrived, they found Breck had been tied up with duct tape, and Daynes’ phones, hard drives and pen drives – which were all encrypted – had been immersed in water.
He refused to give police access to passwords to any of the devices.
See this BBC report for more details.
The only sentence available for murder is life. Daynes received a 25-year minimum term. The BBC reported that this was a sentence of life imprisonment, however, due to Daynes’ age, it was a sentence of custody for life.
Starting points are governed by Sch.21 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003. For those under 18 at the time of the offence, the starting point is 12 years. For those over 18, it is either 15, 25, 30 or whole life. Having said that, there is obviously not a “cliff edge” when someone turns 18, and therefore one would expect that a sentence for murder committed by a 17 year old and an 18 year old would not be miles apart, notwithstanding the potentially enormous difference between the statutory starting points. As ever, the judge is required to consider all the factors and impose a just sentence.
So what happened here? Well the judge was sure that the murder involved sadistic or sexual motivation; we have no details as to why that was, but we do know that there had been a previous rape complaint made against Daynes by another boy. The finding that the murder involved sexual or sadistic motivation means that the appropriate starting point was 30 years. Originally, we said that the starting point should have been whole life, however Jonathan Bild, a lecturer at Cambridge, pointed out that whilst whole life is the correct starting point for the murder of a child involving sexual motivation, the whole life starting point does not apply to defendants aged under 21 at the time of the offence. Therefore, 30 years is the starting point and we thank Jon for pointing out the error.
We have not seen any sentencing remarks but can safely assume there was a reduction made for his age and his guilty plea (although reports that he pleaded guilty appear to have disappeared from several news sites).
Even without the sentencing remarks and a full account of all the facts, it is evident that this was a very serious murder. The aggravating features of coercion, manipulation and deception are manifest and the vulnerability of the victim along with the trust he placed in Daynes mean that the sentence imposed in this case was always going to be very high. It appears then, that the ultimate question for the judge was how much to reduce the sentence by for Daynes’ age and guilty plea.
The reduction for a guilty plea is limited to 1/6 or 5 years, however in cases where the evidence was overwhelming, or a plea is very late, judges can reduce this credit. In this case, it appears that Daynes pleaded on the day of his trial and so the judge may have significantly reduced this credit (although in some cases, judges do give more credit than they have to as a reflection of the plea avoiding the family of the victim having to undergo the ordeal of a trial). As for his age, that is far more problematic and to an extent depends on his maturity and other such factors.
For what was a very serious example of murder, 25 years seems to be an appropriate sentence, considering Daynes’ age and guilty plea. That said, don’t discount an appeal; there isn’t much to lose.