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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Killers likely to die in jail

10-30-2003 Australia:
Snowtown murderers John Justin Bunting and Robert Joe Wagner are likely to die in jail after being sentenced yesterday by a judge who condemned them as cowards in the business of killing for pleasure.

Denounced by Justice Brian Martin as beyond rehabilitation and lacking contrition, 37-year-old Bunting - convicted of 11 gruesome murders, some preceded by torture - and 31-year-old Wagner - convicted of 10 - will serve mandatory life sentences without parole on each count.

Justice Martin, who said dreadful crimes required dreadful punishment, refused to set a non-parole period and warned future judges not to relent. "I make it plain I cannot envisage anything that would justify fixing a non-parole period," he said after hearing statements from some of the families of the victims of the men, two of a gang of four who became Australia's worst serial killers.

"If I had the power to make an order for them never to be released, I would unhesitatingly make that order."

In the only submission made in the South Australian Supreme Court yesterday in the defence of either man, Wagner told the court he was only doing what the authorities failed to do by hunting down pedophiles.

A handcuffed Wagner, illiterate at the time of his arrest, stood up to explain his reasons for killing: "Pedophiles were doing terrible things to children and innocent children were being damaged," he said, reading from a statement. "The authorities did nothing about it, I was very angry. Someone had to do something about it. I decided to take action and I took that action."

But Justice Martin did not accept that the killers were motivated by vigilantism. "I am satisfied both of you derived pleasure from the physical act of killing and the violence and torture that preceded some of the killings," he said. "I am also satisfied you derived pleasure from the defleshing and dismembering of some of the bodies."

Another killer, James Vlassakis, 23, who was recruited into the ring for the last four murders, was sentenced last year to 26 years' jail after pleading guilty.

Bunting, a former abattoir worker whose hatred of pedophiles drove the serial murders that ran from 1992 until just before his arrest in May 1999, and Wagner, the strongman who did much of the killing, were found guilty by a jury early last month of 11 and seven counts of murder respectively. Before that trial, Wagner had pleaded guilty to three more murders, including that of Barry Lane, a convicted pedophile he ran away from home to live with when 14.

The verdict was the culmination of a police inquiry that linked a series of missing people. On May 21, 1999, police broke into a disused bank vault at Snowtown, a small town in South Australia's mid-north. There they found the rotting and dismembered remains of eight people in six heavy-duty plastic barrels. Another four bodies were found at three other sites.

While most of the victims were strangled, some were also tortured using pliers to crush their toes, either to extract voice recordings used later to dupe relatives and authorities, to gain PINs to access bank accounts or for pleasure. Before murdering him, Bunting and Wagner burnt Fred Brooks, 18, with cigarettes.

After the deaths, Wagner and Bunting succumbed to a kind of blood lust, dismembering corpses and playing with them. On one occasion Wagner held the head of a victim and invited Bunting to "kiss the puppet". Wagner also took flesh from David Johnson's thigh, putting it into a glove he offered to Bunting, saying he had a surprise.

The deaths were premeditated, sometimes planned weeks in advance. In the case of the final victim, David Johnson, 24, Bunting offered to sell Johnson's car 10 days before he was murdered.

After 11 months of evidence from 227 witnesses and 17,000 pages of transcript, the Snowtown trial became the longest and most expensive criminal trial in South Australian history, requiring its own budget allocation of $15 million.

But the Snowtown business is not finished.

After the jury became deadlocked over charges relating to the 12th victim, Suzanne Allen, Justice Martin discharged it. He agreed yesterday to a request from state prosecutors that the Allen murder go to a retrial.

After sentencing the men to indefinite imprisonment, they were immediately remanded to a new trial for the murder of Suzanne Allen. A fourth man, Mark Haydon, married to victim Elizabeth Haydon, has yet to stand trial for the murders. ..more.. by Penelope Debelle

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