A former corporal has been jailed for strangling trans woman Mhelody Bruno to death, having previously walked free from court due to a “sentencing error”.
Rian Ross Toyer, 33, was sentenced to 22 months’ imprisonment for the manslaughter of Mhelody Bruno, 25, whom he killed while engaging in an act of erotic asphyxia. He will not be eligible for parole for 12 months.
Toyer was initially spared jail due to a “sentencing error” by Judge Gordon Lerve, who had issued a 22-month intensive correction order – a course of action that is not permitted for the charge of manslaughter.
With activists outraged that he was allowed to escape a prison term, the judge was forced to reopen the case ten days later on Monday (29 March) to correct his mistake.
“Clearly in purporting to impose an intensive correction order I made an error,” Judge Lerve said. “That error was fundamental and significant, and one of which I must take ownership.”
However, he added that it was a “matter of considerable regret” that he could not impose the initial sentence that would have seen Toyer avoid jail time.
“I remain firmly of the opinion that if the law permitted the offender to serve the sentence by way of an intensive correction order it would be the appropriate course in this matter,” he said.
In the original sentencing the judge took into account the fact that Toyer’s employment with the RAAF was terminated last year as a result of the charges. The defendant also received a 25 per cent discount on his sentence for his guilty plea.
Toyer and Bruno met on Grindr and had been dating for three weeks before Bruno was killed on 21 September 2019. The pair had had an argument the evening she died.
Bruno died after falling unconscious while being choked by Toyer as they had sex. The court heard that it was common for him to wrap his hand around her throat during sex and she had placed it there the first time they had been intimate.
Toyer claimed that she hadn’t asked to be choked but also that she had not asked for the choking to stop.
After realising she had lost consciousness he performed CPR and called emergency services. The following day she fell into a coma and died after going into cardiac arrest.
Convicting Toyer of the lesser sentence of manslaughter, the judge said he was “satisfied on balance” that Bruno “not only consented to the act of choking but actually instigated it … [the first time the couple] had sex”.
He said the choking was “committed in course of a consensual sexual act”, that there was “no issue or concern as far as public safety” and that Toyer was “unlikely to reoffend”.
Filipino community organisations have since expressed outrage at the Australian judicial system for its handling of Mhelody Bruno’s death.
Carielyn Tunion of the Filipino youth organisation Anakbayan called the lenient sentencing “a disgusting minimisation of fatal violence”.