Queensland ‘gay panic’ killer set free, calls to close loophole
A day after the Queensland Government decided to reject recommendations calling for the abolishment of the ‘gay panic’ defence, it’s been revealed a man who used the defence as an excuse for killing another man in 2008 has walked free from jail, leading to calls from the victim’s grieving mother to close the loophole.
Joyce Kujala’s son, Wayne Ruks, was brutally bashed to death on the grounds of Maryborough’s St Mary’s Catholic Church in July 2008. Murder charges were laid against two men, Jason Andrew Pearce and Richard John Meerdink, however both men had their charges reduced to manslaughter after they convinced the jury Ruks had made a pass at one of the pair.
Kujala has always maintained her son was not gay.
Pearce was eventually sentenced in 2010 to nine years imprisonment, while Meerdink received 10 years.
Earlier this month, on July 9, Pearce was granted parole and released from jail.
Kujala has blasted the leniency of the men’s sentences, saying Pearce would still be in prison if he had not been able to use the ‘gay panic’ defence.
“This is a terrible loophole in the law that anyone can use to literally get away with murder,” said Joyce in a statement.
“Pearce took my son’s life and gave me a life sentence – he got four years and now he’s free. My son was not gay. It just shows that anyone with a smart lawyer can use the defence against anyone.
“There is no condoning an attack on anyone, regardless of their race or religion or the way they live. This law is a loophole that simply encourages more crime. It’s time for Campbell Newman to close it.”
Under the state’s provocation laws, the claim of ‘non-violent homosexual advance’ can be used as a defence in murder or assault court cases – potentially reducing a conviction from murder to manslaughter, if an accused person said their victim’s behaviour provoked them into attacking.
A Change.org petition against the use of the ‘gay panic’ defence created by the priest of St Mary’s Catholic Church, Father Paul Kelly, has so far received close to 200,000 signatures in support of its removal.
“Campbell Newman says he is tough on crime. Now I’d like to see him show that he is by finally removing the ‘gay panic’ defence,” Father Kelly said.
“This is not just a gay rights issue, it is a criminal justice and human rights issue.”
Yesterday, a spokesperson for Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said the government would not be accepting recommendations from an expert panel convened earlier this year which suggested altering the law so that unwanted sexual advances could not be used to claim provocation unless in exceptional circumstances.
“The Criminal Code was amended in 2011 to ensure words alone do not amount to provocation unless exceptional circumstances exist,” the spokesperson wrote.
“Given these laws are yet to be tested, the Government does not intend to make any further amendments to the provocation defence at this time.”
Critics say the 2011 changes do not go far enough as alleged offenders could claim that victims – some of whom may not be alive to testify – touched them and that is what launched the assault or murder.
For updates or more information on Father Kelly’s petition, visit http://www.change.org/gaypanic