A Victorian Supreme Court jury has found Bourke Street driver James Gargasoulas guilty of murder.
On 20 January 2017 James Gargasoulas accelerated a car he was driving down a footpath in Bourke Street Melbourne, deliberately targeting pedestrians. He killed 6 people and injured many others during his rampage.
Gargasoulas was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and drug induced psychosis at the time of the offences.
Section 3 of the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to Be Tried) Act 1997 (Vic) provides:
“offence” includes conduct that would, but for the perpetrator’s mental impairment or unfitness to be tried, have constituted an offence.
Section 20 of the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to Be Tried) Act 1997 (Vic) provides:
Defence of mental impairment
(1) The defence of mental impairment is established for a person charged with an offence if, at the time of engaging in conduct constituting the offence, the person was suffering from a mental impairment that had the effect that—
(a) he or she did not know the nature and quality of the conduct; or
(b) he or she did not know that the conduct was wrong (that is, he or she could not reason with a moderate degree of sense and composure about whether the conduct, as perceived by reasonable people, was wrong).
(2) If the defence of mental impairment is established, the person must be found not guilty because of mental impairment.
At the trial, the jury listened three days of evidence and watched harrowing CCTV footage of the rampage.
Gargasoulas gave evidence about his state of mind at the time of the offences:
“I had a premonition and I followed my instinct to do what I did… I wasn’t intending to kill anyone as I was driving to the city.”
Gargasoulas apologised for his actions but said saying sorry or a lengthy sentence would not “fix what I have done”.
His barrister Dr Theo Alexander started his three minute closing submission with a quote from Hamlet:
“Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown
Our thoughts are ours
their ends none of our own.”
In her closing, Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC said it was a clear case of criminal liability:
“There’s no issue of identity, the conduct itself is captured on the CCTV. The CCTV really in this case says it all.”
The jury were sent away this morning at 11.43am to deliberate.
In less than an hour, the jury found Gargasoulas guilty of 6 counts of murder and 27 counts of reckless conduct endangering life.
Gargasoulas displayed no emotion as the verdicts were announced while family members of the victims who were in the court wiped their eyes. Later, Gargasoulas appeared to be twitching his leg and rocking slightly in his seat.
The jury’s verdict should not have come as a surprise given there was no dispute that Gargasoulas was the driver of the car and had intended to kill or injure, and a jury had earlier found that he was fit to stand trial.
There is no doubt that Gargasoulas’ mental illness was a cause or contributing factor to the crimes he perpetrated on 20 January 2017. This case shows that even when someone is suffering from a mental illness and/or a drug induced psychosis, they ordinarily still are held criminally responsible for their actions. The legal question for a jury or judge is whether they knew what they were actually doing, or whether they knew that what they were doing was wrong. The jury’s answer to both questions was in the affirmative.