John Charles McCann gave his relatives and supporters a brief wave and a nervous smile as he was walked in handcuffs out of court seven in the NSW Supreme Court’s Darlinghurst branch on November 29.
Just moments before Acting Justice Graham Barr gave the 67-year-old Springwood man a seven-and-a-half year prison sentence for the manslaughter of 45-year-old Craig Alan Morgan.
Acting Justice Barr set a non-parole period of three-and-a-half years which means McCann could be released as early as September 2014 taking into account time he has already spent in prison awaiting trial.
On November 19 a jury found McCann guilty of manslaughter through excessive and unreasonable use of self-defence during a fight with Mr Morgan in McCann’s home in Charles Street, Springwood in the early hours of March 13, 2011. McCann strangled Mr Morganwith a rope, a verdict Acting Justice Barr told the court he was satisfied about “beyond reasonable doubt”.
During his summary, Acting Justice Barr said: “I take into account that this is the first recorded occasion of violence by the offender, but it has happened and in particularly brutal circumstances”.
“In my view, taking full account of any effect the offender’s condition (of mental impairment) had on him, it was unreasonable for him to go so far, having wrapped the rope around the deceased’s neck, as to tie it tight and kill him.
“The act causing death was not only an unreasonable response to the threat he faced, it was a particularly cruel thing to do.”
Evidence given during the trial revealed McCann had a long history of depression and bipolar disorder and he was generally unprepared to accept diagnoses or follow medical advice.
Brain scans done between 2007 and 2011 showed he also had significant degeneration of the frontal lobes of the brain, which was considered irreversible.
In a report for the court, clinical and consulting neuropschycologist Corinne Roberts stated McCann’s behaviour had become increasingly erratic and disorganised, consistent with impaired executive functioning (of the brain), a condition that can result in problems with the ability to adapt to changing circumstances and consider the impact of one’s behaviour on others as well as self-awareness and insight.
Mr Morgan had previously rented a room in McCann’s home where he befriended fellow lodgers Michael Vickers and Tara Hain. He moved to the Northern Territory at the start of 2011 for a job and to be close to family.
He phoned Mr Vickers to let him know he would be starting a new job on the NSW Central Coast and would call in to Springwood on his way.
On or about March 8, 2011 Mr Morgan arrived at McCann’s house and it was agreed he could stay the night but he continued to live there for several more nights.
On March 12, 2011 Mr Morgan — an alcoholic — was drinking on the front verandah with Mr Vickers when McCann expressed resentment and wanted Mr Morgan out of the house.
Later McCann went to a police station, told officers Mr Morgan was in his house and would not leave and that he was dangerous when drunk.
Police arrested Mr Morgan and took him to the police station but after interviewing him found no reason to detain him.
They offered to find him accommodation for the night but he declined and instead made an arrangement with Mr Vickers to stay in his room, without informing McCann.
In the middle of the night and under the influence of alcohol, Mr Morgan left Mr Vickers’ room and confronted McCann who was working on his computer in a small room in the other side of the house and a fight began on the floor.
In his summary, Acting Justice Barr said the series of events immediately before McCann took a nylon cord or rope in his hand were that Mr Morgan had approached without warning through a dividing curtain, said threatening words to McCann and punched him twice in the face. McCann then believed Mr Morgan intended to kill him.
But Acting Justice Carr said “it is difficult to accept” McCann’s evidence that he had the rope in his hands “merely because his arm and hand and wrists became twisted in it and that the rope had somehow came to be around the deceased’s neck”.
“It was Constable Pavey who was able to describe the condition of the rope.
“The rope could not be removed until the knot was loosened. The offender must have tied the knot.
“The offender intended to kill. He is not prepared fully to acknowledge his deliberate use of the rope.”
Three psychiatrists gave evidence at the trial — Dr Nielssen did not consider the offender dangerous, Dr Furst was of the view the offender poses a low risk to others of re-offending, while Dr Martin said a person with untreated bipolar disorder presents a modest increased risk of violence.
In an earlier session of the sentencing on November 27, Acting Justice Barr told McCann’s lawyer “your client is suffering a condition that requires treatment for the rest of his life — my job is not to treat, my job is to punish”.
In his final remarks on sentencing on November 29, Acting Justic Barr acknowledged McCann was a person of good character and the offence was not planned, but there was “no expression of regret” by the offender.
“In view of the uncertainties about the offender’s further treatment I cannot conclude that he will not re-offend,” Acting Justice Barr said.
“The offender will have to be supervised and medicated for the rest of his life — that is a matter that parole cannot be expected to deal with.
“I take account of his age and the conditions in which he will have to be kept in custody to promote his proper treatment and the reduction of risk.
“The offender will in consequence serve his sentence hard, and this justifies lowering the non-parole period of his sentence.
“The mother of the deceased, Rewa Joan Wallace’s statement shows how much the deceased was loved and how great his loss has been to her and her family.
“The court cannot take these matters into account in fixing sentence, but it is right to acknowledge.
“The sympathy of the court goes out to all who have been touched by these tragic events.”
The Gazette incorrectly referred to Craig Alan Morgan as Craig Wallace in an article published on Wednesday, November 28 about John McCann being found guilty of manslaughter.