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NT Govt proposes to change manslaughter charg -

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NT Govt proposes to change manslaughter charges

Reporter: Murray McLaughlin

KERRY O'BRIEN: And now to the Northern Territory, where the Government is proposing to make it more
difficult for killers to plead a murder charge down to manslaughter. Rules governing the
supervision of prisoners released on parole have been tightened and the Territory's police service
has got tougher on cases of domestic violence. But all that has come too late for a young woman
from the Tiwi Islands who was beaten to death by her husband 18 months ago at a remote outstation.
The husband, who had a long history of domestic violence, was on parole and forbidden to be with
his wife when he killed her. In Darwin today, the coroner handed down his findings from an inquest
into her death identifying a failure of official oversight and a pattern of neglect that directly
contributed to the woman's death. Murray McLaughlin reports.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: This strip of coastal paradise lies within a National Park, spreading over
Coburg Peninsula north east of Darwin. An extended family group lives here at an outstation called
Araru. In May last year at this place, Jodi, 27, mother of four and pregnant again was beaten to
death over many hours by her husband, Trenton Cunningham. Her death has come to represent a failure
of the system to protect vulnerable women subject to unremitting violence by Aboriginal men.

JON TIPPETT QC, COUNSEL ASSISTING NT CORONER: It was entirely predictable. Senior officers of
Community Corrections had foreseen that the death was very likely to occur many, many years prior
to the death actually occurring.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: The fatal bashing, inside this house at Araru outstation, had the most banal
provocation. Cunningham was burying a dog and got upset when his wife refused to bring him water.

ROBERT CUNNINGHAM, GRANDFATHER: Well he tell her to, why don't you bring me water. That's why a
little argue and he's not really gone on fighting properly, but just argument for dog, for water.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Throughout that night and into the next morning, Cunningham thrashed his wife to
death. He'd been neither drinking alcohol nor smoking cannabis. The cause of death was brain
haemorrhage. Jodi suffered head, chest and stomach injuries. Her liver was ruptured.

POLICE INTERVIEWER: How did that make you feel?

TRENTON CUNNINGHAM: I was upset.

POLICE INTERVIEWER: You were upset? Did that make you sad or angry, or what, that she didn't bring
that water?

TRENTON CUNNINGHAM: Maybe angry.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Trenton Cunningham would plead guilty to manslaughter. In August he was
sentenced to 11 and a half years in jail, with a non parole period of six years and six months.
Cunningham had been to jail before for violence. He served 18 months for pouring scalding water
over his wife and attacking her with a steel bar. He was still on parole when the killing happened.
Conditions of parole were that he live at Araru outstation with his grandfather and have no contact
with his wife. But although the authorities had good reason to suspect they were back together,
Community Corrections officers never visited Araru.

JON TIPPETT: The supervision was illusory. The Community Corrections officers did not visit that
location. They did not seek out members of his family to ensure that he was complying with
conditions and, more particularly, to ensure that the relationship between he and his wife had not
resumed.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: For five days last month the Northern Territory Coroner, Greg Cavanaugh, ran an
inquest into Jodi's death. Primarily he wanted to establish why Community Corrections did not
properly supervise Cunningham's parole.

JON TIPPETT: There was no investigation by Corrections until the inquest was announced. And then a
pretty comprehensive investigation was undertaken and it was clear from that investigation that
there were significant deficiencies in the way Community Corrections went about its work.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: The inquest heard a long history of violence recorded by the health clinic at
Nguiu on the Tiwi Islands, where Trenton Cunningham went to high school. He was just 14 when the
clinic first noted that a pregnant Jodi complained of being hit with a hammer. Theirs was a
traditional promised marriage. Two reasons for its breakdown are identified by Cunningham's family.

SOLOMON COOPER, COUSIN: One was jealousy and one was getting married too young. And being forced to
get married that young. Because we didn't actually know he was getting married at the time.

ADAM KERINAIUA: She, you know, kept going back to him. I've actually tried my best to get her away
from him.

JON TIPPETT: We learnt that the health service was used by her on many, many occasions as a result
of injuries she received at the hands of her husband and the health service did, from time to time,
pass on that information to police. But it was in a haphazard manner.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Inaction by the Northern Territory police was also scrutinised by the coronial
inquest.

JON TIPPETT: The police at Nguiu were aware that domestic violence was a significant problem in
this relationship. However, the police response was quite inadequate. The police should have taken
firm steps.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: A review of the case by police found failures on eight occasions to seek a
domestic violence restraining order against Cunningham, or to arrest him for breach of bail
conditions. The Coroner accepted that police have since improved procedures.

JON TIPPETT: There is very little discretion now. If police come into contact with a situation of
potential or actual domestic violence, they are required to take certain steps according to the
general orders.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: The Correctional Services Department, too, has reviewed its processes. Officers
now have to check the bona fides of the living circumstances of a prisoner out on parole. So would
the death of Jodi been prevented if that had happened in the case of her husband? The Coroner
believes so.

JON TIPPETT: Yes, he does. The fact is that the system, if it worked as it should have, would have
kept that couple apart. It certainly would have during the period of parole.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: One point the Coroner was not required to reflect on is why Cunningham did not
face a murder charge. The Territory's Director of Public Prosecutions would not comment on why
Cunningham was able to plead guilty to a charge of manslaughter. In general, though, he said the
Crown is required to prove beyond reasonable doubt an intent to kill and cause grievous harm.

RICHARD COATES, NT DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS: Where a person dies as a result of punches,
albeit sustained, in a sustained beating, it's more difficult to prove that the person intended to
kill or cause serious permanent injury to the deceased.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: Jodi's brother has five children of his own on Tiwi Islands. Adam Kerinaiua now
shares responsibility for the care of the four children of his late sister.

ADAM KERINAIUA: I actually blame myself for what had happened. I've tried all those years tried to
keep her away from him, but he's continually going back to her.

MURRAY MCLAUGHLIN: And over on the mainland at Araru outstation, Cunningham's family, too, is left
bewildered.

SOLOMON COOPER: We are all family and it still hurts the family today. It was bad for what
happened.