In June 2013 Michael Cope, a man with a history of violence, killed his former partner Linzi Ashton. This was a few weeks after he had attacked her causing her Actual Bodily Harm.
The killing was brutal – Mr Cope inflicted 108 separate injuries, with the prosecutor saying that Ms Ashton “had been punched, kicked, stamped on, cut with a blade, beaten with a metal pole and strangled with a cable tie.”
After killing her, Mr Cope tidied the scene (the suggestion being that he was hiding forensic evidence) and went on the run for a month before handing himself in to the police making (it seems) effective admissions to the killing.
Mr Cope was due to stand trial on 20th January 2014 but pleaded guilty on the day of trial to murder and to the previous ABH.
He was sentenced on 21st January to life imprisonment with a tariff (the minimum amount of period that must be spent in prison) of 27 years.
27 years. Why so long? Or, depending on your view, short?
The only sentence for murder is life imprisonment. The issue for the Judge was how long the tariff should be. We have a factsheet on the four starting points here.
We don’t have the sentencing remarks (although some of what the sentencing judge said is in the news reports).
Looking at the mitigating features first (because these apply whatever level the murder was), the main mitigating feature is the plea of guilty (and the fact that he handed himself in may also be, albeit less significant).
On the face of it, this was a murder with a 15 year starting point, but aggravated by the level of violence in the murder and the previous violence. However, even without the mitigating features this would not justify an increase to 27 years.
None of the features of a ’30 year’ murder appear to apply. The closest would be ‘sexual or sadistic conduct’, but the Prosecution have accepted that the murder didn’t have a sexual motive and, whilst the murder was extremely brutal, it does not appear to have been ‘sadistic’.
It is possible that the starting point was 25 years because Mr Cope took a knife to the murder site. Even then, this would still not tell us how we got to 27 years.
So, the reason for the sentence is unclear. We would expect a credit of about 15% because although the plea was entered on the day of trial it appears that the killing had been accepted previously and the Court was awaiting a psychiatric report.
We would have expected, on the facts, to have a starting point of 15 years increased to about 20-24 years to take account of the brutal nature of the attack, the ABH and the previous violence, reduced by about 3 years because of the plea of guilty, so a tariff of about 18-21 years.
This is miles away from the actual tariff, so we would assume that the Judge has taken a starting point of 30 years and reduced it by 3 for the plea. This is higher than we would expect on the guidelines and we would expect there to be an appeal.
Hopefully this will be clarified by publishing the Sentencing Remarks. If and when that happens we will come back to this to see where we went wrong.