FORMER Camden Haven man, Ross Merrick, was sentenced to a maximum of 11 years in jail for the manslaughter of Marika Ninness in 2013.
Justice Helen Wilson sentenced Merrick to a non-parole period of eight years and three months in Newcastle Supreme Court on Monday.
He will be eligible for parole in June, 2024.
The sentence was met with an outcry of relief and joy from members of Ms Ninness’ family and friends in the gallery.
Merrick, formerly of the Camden Haven area, was found not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter following a near four-week trial in Newcastle Supreme Court this year.
He was convicted of deliberately striking Ms Ninness in the head during an argument in the car park of an East Maitland hotel on December 7, 2013.
Ms Ninness succumbed to her horrific injuries two weeks later.
During sentencing, Justice Wilson described Merrick’s evidence during his murder trial as “being evasive, implausible and given in a matter indicative of mendacity”.
She rejected his claim that there was some connection between his military service and the offence, ultimately finding that Merrick had become so angry during an argument with Ms Ninness during a night out on December 7, 2013, that he had deliberately struck her a “vigorous blow to the head”.
“On all of the evidence I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that there was an argument between the offender and Ms Ninness at the tavern and the offender became angry,” Justice Wilson told the court on Monday.
“As [a witness] observed he tried to provoke her into hitting him.
“The offender then walked out of the tavern alone after speaking aggressively to Ms Ninness.
“Ms Ninness did not follow the offender, but went to McDonalds alone.
“The offender was still very angry, demonstrated by the text message he sent her demanding that she remove her children, including a very small child, from their shared home that night.
“When she did not come to him as he also demanded of her by text message he sought her out and pursued her up the street, despite her clear indications that she wanted him to leave her alone.
“His conduct was such that, although there was only a relatively small number of people in the area at such a late hour, the attention of two witnesses was drawn to what was happening and both watched as events unfolded.
“At a point on the pathway through the car park approaching the shopping centre, the offender deliberately struck Ms Ninness a vigorous blow to the head of some force.
“Although I cannot be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt as to precisely where the blow landed on Ms Ninness head or whether the blow was delivered with a fist or an elbow, the latter being the most likely.
“I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the offender, enraged by the argument he had had with Ms Ninness and by her refusal to go to him, deliberately and vigorously swung a blow of some force and velocity directed at her head area that connected with her head.
“That blow caused her to fall immediately to the ground.
“I do not accept that the offender’s conduct was in anyway connected with his military training.
”Necessarily, consistent with the jury's verdict, the blow struck by the offender was one delivered without him having formed any intention to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm.
“It was an expression of rage and anger, an explosion of temper that caused him to lash out at Ms Ninness, striking her to the head.”
In assessing the “objective gravity of the crime”, Justice Wilson said there were a number of factors which made it a “particularly egregious example of manslaughter”.
Those included the fact it occurred in the context of a domestic relationship, that Merrick had been violent towards Ms Ninness before and therefore had warning for the potential for him to seriously hurt her, that there was no provocation for the attack, that Merrick was the one who escalated the argument to violence and that Ms Ninness had been trying to walk away and ignore him at the time of the assault.
“On all of the evidence I regard this as a very serious example of manslaughter, even having regard to the many and various ways in which manslaughter may be committed,” Justice Wilson said.
Outside of court, Ms Ninness’ sister, Charnie Braz, said the sentence was an “adequate reflection of community's distaste for domestic violence”.
“We've long been careful not to hang part of our own healing on the court case,” Ms Braz said.
“The courts are quite limited in what they can do and certainly it's not within their power to turn back the clock.
“We're gratified that 11 years is a good reprieve for the community to have a killer taken off the streets.
“It's a sentence that is an adequate reflection of the community's distaste for domestic violence and I think perhaps it gives one many nights to consider the consequences of their actions.”
When asked if she was “happy” with the sentence, Ms Braz replied that it would not bring her sister back.
She also repeated claims that there was no “closure” for the family after the court case.
Ms Braz did say the community’s attitude towards domestic violence was changing.
“I think the broader community is speaking quite loudly through this sentence and in other instances were domestic violence is no longer been tolerated,” she said.
“It does take a good few years to bring about behavioural change on a broad scale in the community, but 11 years is a good few years.”