A man convicted for choking Mhelody Bruno to death during sex was allowed to walk free due to a “sentencing error”, officials have admitted.
Rian Ross Toyer, 33, pled guilty to manslaughter charges for the unlawful killing of Mhelody Bruno, a 25-year-old trans woman whom he strangled to death as they had sex.
After a trial in Wagga Wagga, Australia, justice Gordon Lerve sentenced Toyer to a 22-month intensive correction order with conditions including 500 hours community service.
Activists were outraged as the defendant was allowed to escape a prison term, having received a 25 per cent discount on his sentence for his guilty plea.
It now appears that the sentence was not actually permissible in law, as the case has been listed to be re-opened next Monday (March 29).
“This matter was mentioned in court on Monday, March 22, after the parties raised with the judge on Friday, March 19 that an intensive correction order could not be imposed for manslaughter,” said a spokesperson for the New South Wales Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The case is listed on March 29 for a “sentencing error correction”, the spokesperson added. The question of why the judge issued such an inappropriate sentence will likely be explored at this time.
In the original trial, judge Lerve held that the choking had occurred “in the course of a consensual sexual act”. He said he was satisfied that Bruno “not only consented to the act of choking but actually instigated it … [the first time the couple] had sex”.
The court heard that Bruno and Toyer had an argument the evening that she died. On this occasion Bruno reportedly had not asked to be choked, but also did not ask for the choking to stop.
Lerve concluded that while the pair never verbally discussed the choking, there was an agreement as to “a method of communication whereby the deceased would tap on the offender’s arm” to get him to stop, which “tragically … did not work on this occasion”.
In any case, the provisions of the intensive correction order issued by the judge make clear that the sentence is not valid for certain serious offences, including manslaughter and murder.
The injustice horrified trans rights activists. “This is misogyny and this is outrageous,” trans advocate and consultant Katherine Wolfgramme told the Star Observer.
“When we talk about equality, we should look at this case very carefully and ask ourselves, was this fair? If a [cis] woman had a fight with her boyfriend and he strangled her the next morning, things would not be seen in the same way.
“This is not equality, this is clearly discrimination and a miscarriage of justice against a human being who just happened to be transgender. My heart goes out to all the other transgender victims of crimes whose perpetrators have gotten away scot-free because the victims are trans.”