Vigilante gets suspended sentence for torturing elderly Murray Bridge man

Judge Liesl Chapman has taken mercy on a 21-year-old offender who she believed did not pose a risk to the community.

This story was originally published behind Murray Bridge News’ paywall. Paywalled stories are unlocked four weeks after publication. Can’t wait that long? Subscribe here.

A vigilante who tortured an elderly Murray Bridge man has been released into the community on a good behaviour bond.

In Adelaide’s District Court last Tuesday, Judge Liesl Chapman ruled that the man’s offending had been driven by his addiction to methamphetamine and his belief that the victim had sexually assaulted a friend’s teenaged brother.

She suspended a prison sentence of five years and six months on the condition that he perform 150 hours of community service, undertake counselling and report regularly to a community corrections officer.

Vigilante justice could not be tolerated, she said – “people must not take the law into their own hands”.

But she believed the 21-year-old offender had shown remorse during more than a year in prison, and would not pose a risk to the community unless he fell back into addiction.

“Don’t let yourself down, okay?” she told him.

“I won’t,” he replied.

Victim was subjected to ‘brutal attack’ in February of 2020

The offender – who cannot be identified for legal reasons – had pleaded guilty to seven charges, including assault and false imprisonment, after subjecting his victim to a nightmarish four-hour ordeal.

He created a fake profile on the dating app Grindr to lure the victim to his brother's house at three in the morning, believing that the elderly man had sexually abused a friend’s teenaged brother.

He then bound the man, demanded $5000 from him, and assaulted him with a horrifying array of equipment, including a drill, a knife and a needle.

The victim had believed he was going to die, Judge Chapman said, and now suffered from nightmares and lived in constant fear.

The man was eventually able to alert police after convincing the attacker to let him go and withdraw money from an ATM.

‘Everyone has a breaking point’

In sentencing the offender, Judge Chapman said he had shown “courage, strength and resilience” during his childhood.

His parents had been violent and drug-addicted, he had had “a terrible time” with a foster family before running away from home at 15, and he had attended 15 different schools.

Since then, however, he had held down several jobs and trained to be a youth worker so he could protect others from having to experience what he did.

“You were doing more than keeping your head above water, you were making positive contributions to the community,” Judge Chapman said.

His life had only gone off track in the second half of 2019, when he went through a relationship breakdown; lost his father, with whom he had reconnected; became the primary carer for two of his younger brothers; then lost his job as a result.

He began using methamphetamine.

By the time of the attack, on February 29, 2020, he had spent all his money on drugs, had almost stopped eating and had not slept for six weeks.

“As a young man who has contrition, remorse and insight, I consider your continued rehabilitation would now be better served in the community under supervision,” Judge Chapman said.

“I am sure you did not expect that outcome this morning, but you can tell that I have been impressed by ... the adversities which you have overcome.”

She ordered that the offender’s identity be suppressed while a case involving his brother, who was also charged, remained before the courts.