Murder victims’ families call for overhaul of parole system

Headshot of Emily Moulton
Emily MoultonThe West Australian
Eight-year-old Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia Shu was murdered at Livingston Marketplace shopping centre by Dante Arthurs.
Camera IconEight-year-old Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia Shu was murdered at Livingston Marketplace shopping centre by Dante Arthurs. Credit: Steve Ferrier/WA News

One of the leading victims of crime support groups in WA has called for an overhaul of the parole board system, saying the views of murder victims’ families should be given greater consideration when their loved one’s killer is up for review.

John Burrell, the co-founder and chair of Angelhands which advocates for the rights of those left behind following a homicide, said many families feel the sentences handed down by the courts aren’t “commensurate with the crime” and that their wishes - as a secondary victim of crime – aren’t given enough weight.

He said the current system which allowed the Attorney-General to have final say as to whether a killer who was recommended for parole could go free did allow for some families views to be considered but also agreed it may not be the best system.

Mr Burrell’s comments were in response to calls from defence lawyers for the Attorney-General to be stripped of the power to veto decisions made by the Prisoners Review Board.

The West Australian revealed on Tuesday that three of the state’s worst murderers would be up for parole in the coming months including Dante Arthurs, who horrific murder of schoolgirl Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia Shu in June 2006 shocked the state.

Arthurs strangled the eight-year-old in a Canning Vale shopping centre toilet. He was jailed for life with a non-parole period of 13 years. He is up for review in June.

Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia-Shu was murdered by Dante Arthurs in 2006.
Camera IconSofia Rodriguez-Urrutia-Shu was murdered by Dante Arthurs in 2006. Credit: Astrid Volzke (copy pic)

James Stapleton, who was sentenced to strict-security life imprisonment with a minimum of 23 years for torturing 14-year-old Cleon Jackman to death on May 11, 1999, is also due to again go before the parole board next month.

James Stapleton, killer of Cleon Jackman.
Camera IconJames Stapleton, killer of Cleon Jackman. Credit: SUPPLIED PIC

Cleon was assaulted violently, tortured and eventually killed over four to five hours in a Langford house.

Cleon Jackman was tortured and murdered in 1999.
Camera IconCleon Jackman was tortured and murdered in 1999. Credit: Unknown

Mr Burrell said parole board sittings were always a trying time for families because it not only brought back painful memories but it also left them feeling cheated.

“The punishment doesn’t seem or feel to be commensurate with the crime,” he said.

“When does a 13 year sentence compensate a family for their loss of a loved one which is truly a life sentence for them?”.

Mr Burrell said because the parole board operated within the “very restricted parameters of the legislation” it was the offenders’ rights they were charged to decide upon.

“We believe that there absolutely must be an opportunity for the family, victims and members of the community to provide input, especially on the more diverse and complex cases.

“The current system with the Attorney-General in his role does provide that point of contact and consideration for public and community safety, but is it the best method? Quite possibly not, so let’s determine the best approach.”

Premier Mark McGowan and Attorney General John Quigley have made an announcement regarding electoral reform. PIctured is the Attorney General at Parliament. Picture - Justin Benson-Cooper / The West Australian
Camera IconJohn Quigley is Western Australia’s current Attorney General. Credit: Justin Benson-Cooper/The West Australian

Mr Burrell said another aspect of the judicial system to be looked at was to provide appropriate counselling services for offenders explaining Angelhands recognised many perpetrators of crime were often once victims themselves.

For more information about Angelhands, go to https://angelhands.org.au .

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