Minimum terms of 30 years for the murder of 4 year old...

Minimum terms of 30 years for the murder of 4 year old Daniel Pelka

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Daniel PelkaImage from BBC News.

Magdelena Luczak and her partner Mariusz Krezolek were convicted of murder, having previously admitted cruelty to a child. The victim was Luczak’s son, 4 year old Daniel Pelka.

The couple came to Britain in 2006 from Poland. It was alleged that they worked as a team to systematically starve Daniel to death. During the trial, his condition was likened to that of a concentration camp victim by a doctor.

BBC News reports are here, here and here.

Starved

Her case was that she cared for Daniel in the mornings and gave him breakfast. Krezolek cared for him in the afternoons and initially gave him smaller portions to discipline him, but later stopped feeding him all together. Daniel lost a lot of weight over the school holidays and this was noticed by teachers at school.

The prosecution alleged that Daniel was forced to steal food from school and that there were text messages from Luczak to Krezolek discussing bribing Daniel with food to keep quiet about being beaten. Luczak admitted bribing him. She also admitted prohibiting Daniel’s school teacher from giving him food; she said this was to protect him from Krezolek, the inference being that he would be violent if he found out.

It was also alleged that Krezolek fed Daniel salt and water so that he was sick and brought up the food he had eaten at school before his body could gain proper nourishment from it,

Beaten

Luczak denied assaulting Daniel but admitted that she should have done more to protect him as she ‘knew what was really going on at home’.

When asked why she had not taken Daniel to the doctors, she replied “Because Daniel would always have a lot of bruises.

“I tried to make it secret, what was happening to him. That is why I didn’t go to the doctor.”

When asked why, she said “It wasn’t me, it was [Krezolek] but I knew what was happening. I myself don’t understand my actions. I must have loved [Krezolek] to allow such a thing.”

Daniel died in hospital of severe head injuries on 3 March 2012.

Trial

Both denied murder but were convicted on 31 July 2013.

Both Luczak and Krezolek ran defences which blamed each other; Luczak said that Krezolek would not let her feed Daniel and maintained that she had tried to protect Daniel from Krezolek, who was abusive.

Krezolek said in evidence that Luczak stopped him calling an ambulance after Daniel fell because she was concerned social services would notice his bruises.

He said the boy had lost consciousness while Luczak was getting him ready for a bath and Daniel was left for 24-26 hours after his fall before he was seen by a paramedic.

Daniel’s death is- the subject of a serious case review by Coventry’s Safeguarding Children Board.

Sentence

Here is our guide to sentencing in murder cases.

Here are the sentencing remarks.

The life sentence is mandatory for those convicted of murder. But the Judge has to set the minimum term to be spent in prison before the pair are eligible for release.

In this case, the Judge specified minimum terms of 30 years for both defendants. This was based on the fact that she considered that the seriousness of the case was ‘particularly high’. This is despite the case featuring none of the listed factors of cases which ‘normally’ fall into the 30-year category. (See CJA 2003 Sch 21 para 5). In doing so, the uplift to the 30 year category takes account of the horrific features of the case, and so no adjustment is needed from that.

This provides a good example of judicial discretion; if the Judge had decided that the case did not fall into the 30 year category, then she would have had to have started at 15 years (see an earlier post as to why). She would then have had to increase the sentence to reflect all the aggravating features. Whether selecting a 15 or 30 year starting point, the result would have no doubt been the same. The starting points are to assist the courts in fixing the correct term, and nothing more.

There was no plea and good character (or otherwise) provides little mitigation. The aggravating features are so profound that despite the sentence being higher than many predicted, one may struggle to suggest that it should be reduced on appeal.

That said, don’t discount an appeal. For both, there is little to lose in challenging the minimum terms. The 30 year sentence is certainly stern, but perhaps not so long as to require the Court of Appeal to step in. Once we have had chance to digest the sentencing remarks, we may revisit this case and update this post.

11 COMMENTS

  1. The description of the offences in the sentencing remarks is truly disturbing. I would agree that 30 years is the correct sentence.

    I believe the judge stated that she started at 15 years (page 4, 4th paragraph from the bottom), and increased to 30 years due to the severity of the crimes, sustained levels of torture and punishment.

    I therefore wondering why the judge started at 15 years. Does paragraph 4 (1) not cover this case, and therefore starting point 30 years?

  2. Thanks for your comment.

    It seems unclear whether starting at 15 or 30. You are right to point out that p4 para 4 states it is ‘common ground’ that the starting point is 15 years. However, in the final para, the Judge states that the seriousness is ‘particularly high’ which would, as you note, place the case into para 4(1) and therefore a starting point of 30 years.

    So the answer is both. Or neither. Either way, it doesnt really matter as it is the total that matters. You’ve identified two ways of reaching the same conclusion, which demonstrate that the starting points work well when used with common sense and judicial discretion.

    Hope that helps.

  3. One other thought. Was there scope for the sentence to be higher than 30 years? If the judge had started at minimum of 30 years, aggravating circumstances listed in CJA 2003 would surely have made it higher?

    This is why I believe the judge started at 15 years and the factors pushed it to 30

  4. The problem with that would be double-counting – using the same features twice to arrive at the eventual sentence.

    If you start at 30 years, because you have decided the case is one of ‘particularly high seriousness’, you have already taken into account the aggravating factors (in calculating that the case is of ‘particularly high seriousness’).

    To then use those factors again to inflate the sentence beyond 30 years would be unfair and improper.

    • 30 years minimum is therefore the highest available sentence? I thought there was an option of life without parole, but I suppose this has been challenged in the ECHR recently (Bamber et al)? So the only other option is the whole life tariff?

      • 30 years isnt the highest available, as the judge can order whatever minimum term he or she likes, there have been 40 year terms imposed in the past for example. However, I think in this case any higher than 30 years would have troubled the Court of Appeal and would likely have been reduced on an appeal.

        There was a whole life tariff (we don’t use the term ‘life without parole’ like in the US) available to the Judge but it would have been wrong to impose that here.

        The Bamber etc case was a challenge to the lawfulness of whole life tariffs, the result being the ECtHR finding that such a sentence without a review was unlawful. More details here: Whole Life Tariffs (http://ukcrime.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/whole-life-tariffs-unlawful-vinter-v-uk-in-the-echr/)

  5. Does this case not come under section 4 (1) in sch 21 of the CJA 2003? i.e exceptionally serious, as it is covered under 4 (2) (b) – the murder of a child if involving the abduction of the child or sexual or sadistic motivation. I would say it counted as sadistic. Why would the judge have been wrong here to impose that?

    In my first comment, I stated 4 (1), when in fact I meant 5 (1), which I think you spotted.

    • I don’t think it does. Sadistic is define as deriving pleasure or sexual gratification from the infliction of pain. The judge – and police – made it clear that no motivation was clear. Even if they wished to harm him, then I still think sadism is quite a long way away from the conduct in this case, notwithstanding how appalling the facts are. In my view starting at 30 is correct.

  6. There are, alas, many cases which make me loathe my gender; and some which make me loathe my species. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to stay “in calm judicial frame of mind” when you have to choose a minimum and then write your sentencing remarks in a case such as this.

    I may add that I was incensed by the comments of the woman’s mother that the British authorities were to blame for letting it happen and that it would not have happened in Poland. I was reminded of the story that Victoria Climbie’s parents – who had entrusted the child to the people who killed her – were going to sue the LA which did not stop them. In the event it did not happen.

  7. […] The facts are distressing to say the least; Daniel was starved and given salt water to the point where he was sick, thereby causing him to vomit. He was also beaten and ultimately died of severe head injuries. Each blamed the other but ultimately, they were convicted and received life sentences for murder, with minimum terms of 30 years. Our write up of the sentencing hearing can be read here. […]

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