SYDNEY (AP) — A judge on Friday sentenced a man to at least 14 years in prison for the slaying of an Aboriginal woman who bled to death from a violent sexual assault on a remote beach, closing a six-year battle for justice by the woman's family in a case that exposed Australia's deep racial divide.
New South Wales Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Fullerton said Adrian Attwater had shown "callous indifference" toward Lynette Daley, and sentenced him to a maximum of 19 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 14 years and three months, for manslaughter and aggravated sexual assault. His co-defendant, Paul Maris, was sentenced to nine years in prison, with a non-parole period of six years and nine months, for aggravated sexual assault and hindering the discovery of evidence.
"I'm still getting over it — I can't believe it," Daley's stepfather, Gordon Davis, told The Associated Press by telephone minutes after the judge handed down the sentence. "We're all walking around and smiling and crying."
Daley, a 33-year-old mother of seven, died in 2011 after Attwater and Maris drove her to a desolate beach in New South Wales, where they subjected her to a sexual assault so vicious, a forensic pathologist said her injuries worse than those occurring in even precipitous childbirth.
A state coroner determined that Daley died of blood loss caused by blunt force genital tract trauma inflicted by Attwater, and both the coroner and police called for Attwater and Maris to be prosecuted. Yet prosecutors only decided to proceed with the case in 2016, after media reports of Daley's death sparked widespread public outrage and accusations that officials didn't care about Daley because she was Aboriginal and her assailants were white.
Over the years, prosecutors refused to publicly explain why it took them so long to bring the case to trial. But Daley's family has always believed it came down to racism.
In her sentencing decision, Fullerton said prosecutors had yet to offer an explanation.
"The delay in the prosecution of the offenders has not only operated unfairly on them but it has also operated to the direct detriment of the family of the deceased and has had the potential to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice generally," Fullerton wrote.
Following Friday's sentence, state Director of Public Prosecutions Lloyd Babb issued a statement apologizing to Daley's family and the wider Australian community for the delay. But he also appeared to defend his office's decision not to proceed with a trial years ago.
"The question of whether there are reasonable prospects of conviction is a predictive exercise and one about which reasonable minds can differ. Some of the evidence that informed the earlier decisions not to proceed with the prosecution was different to the evidence that was before the jury," Babb wrote. "Nonetheless, I sincerely regret my office's involvement in the delay."
Australians were rattled by the case, both for the savagery of Daley's death and the prosecutors' apparent indifference. The country has struggled for years to address disparities in the justice system's treatment of Aboriginal people, who make up around 3 percent of Australia's population of 24 million people and suffer from high rates of poverty, imprisonment, unemployment and poor health.
Attwater and Maris never denied being with Daley when she died. But they denied responsibility for her death, saying she'd been a willing participant in what they dubbed "wild sex" inside of Maris' truck. An autopsy, however, showed Daley's blood alcohol level was between 0.30 and 0.35 percent — high enough to leave her severely incapacitated and, prosecutors said, utterly incapable of consent.
In September, a jury took less than an hour to convict the men.