Just after midnight, Wednesday, June 13, 2018. Melbourne Cemetery across the way, Melbourne Zoo behind him, the lions in their enclosure. Nineteen-year-old Jaymes Todd is stalking over the grass of Princes Park, hunting.
He has tracked 22-year-old Eurydice Dixon for the past hour, 4.2 kilometres through the city, focusing inwardly on the fantasy in which he has invested
so much time and emotion: a fantasy in which he is always in control and in which the other person is always female, raped then killed.
Later, Todd will tell his father over the prison telephone system that he was very disappointed at the way the crime took place. That, immediately after, he felt like shit. That he hoped it would be better next time.
Eurydice Dixon was an artist: a comedian, a writer. The place to memorialise such an individual is not in the context of her murder, the last note of her song, chosen by a stranger and discordant. Just this, then: Eurydice Dixon was known to enjoy walking through this area at night in bare feet. Dixon arrived in Princes Park, removed her shoes and socks, and proceeded to walk across the soccer pitches from west to east. Glorious.
Thursday, June 14, 2018. Courtroom One of the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. The Princes Park murderer, having surrendered last night, will appear today to be remanded in custody.
At a press conference that morning, Victoria Police stated that it didn’t believe there was a connection with another recent sexual assault that occurred nearby. Women, specifically and exclusively, were warned to take responsibility for their own safety.
Twitter shows the offender in profile en route to this room, facing front, eye slid to the side. This photo will turn out to have captured Todd’s most characteristic expression: an emotional compound that is visually almost interchangeable with contempt – fear and shame.
“Looks young,” I write in my notebook.
Five matters are dealt with by Magistrate Andrew McKenna, glasses down the tip of his nose. Fifteen matters. Twenty. Then the name Jaymes Todd is called and a figure is led in between two female guards angling their heads away from his body. His hair is a furry golden brown, creeping down as shaggy stubble over his face. That face is overweight but there is also still the baby fat. Stocky-ish, stumpy-ish, hunched; he resembles nothing so much as a baby bear.
McKenna asks if there are management issues.
Yes. First time in custody. Vulnerable due to age or appearance. Nineteen. No priors. Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Struggles in certain environments.
In the plastic cage of the dock, Todd’s eyes are shut. They remain shut for a very long time.
While legislative provisions are discussed, Todd looks side-long at the magistrate before shutting his eyes again and rubbing them with one hand, his pointer finger daintily raised. Barely stifles a yawn. Then fails, raising a fist to his mouth.
Todd’s lawyer is instructed that his client’s image is widespread on Twitter. Todd’s eyes remain closed at this news. McKenna rules that images should be withheld from publication. He remands Todd in custody until October.
I drive by Princes Park on my way home, where the tennis courts are next to the cemetery. Stand on the path where I trained for marathons, around and across the 3-kilometre circumference in the light and dark until I felt I knew every branch, every puddle that would take forever to dry, even after a stretch of sunny days. Walk towards the soccer pitches where three girls dribble a ball towards the goal, ponytails flicking in the late-day glare.
It is a normal day. Not just the hours before he throws Eurydice Dixon’s life away and, with it, his own. Afterwards will be normal enough too.
Jaymes Todd finishes hospitality classes around 3pm, catches a train into the city with three mates from college. Tries to buy alcohol at Liquorland but, with that baby face and no ID, is refused. Gets luckier at Cellarbrations, purchasing vodka and rolling papers. Hangs out in Batman Park, sharing his bottle around. One friend heads home.
When the vodka is gone, Todd buys cider. The two remaining friends grab cups from 7-Eleven. Back at the park, Todd buys weed from some men sitting nearby. Smokes two joints. 8.30pm. The three mates walk to Southern Cross Station where Todd buys a Jim Beam and cola before they catch a Broadmeadows-bound train. One mate exits at Flinders Street Station. Todd keeps heading towards Broadmeadows, where he lives with his parents in a housing commission, but then he gets off at Newmarket, leaving his remaining friend on the train. 9.03pm. Alone.
He buys tobacco, returns to the city, arrives back at Flinders Street. 10.25pm. Loiters around the station before heading towards Elizabeth Street. 10.43pm. Todd walks past the Woolworths where Dixon stands with her boyfriend, Tony Magnuson, as he buys her a protein bar. After eating at McDonald’s, Todd returns to the intersection of Flinders and Swanston where Dixon and Magnuson are saying their goodbyes as Magnuson’s tram arrives. Standing outside Young and Jackson Hotel, Todd crosses back towards the station. Suddenly, he sees Dixon walking in the opposite direction. He loiters, letting her pass him. 11.08pm. When she is halfway across Flinders Street he starts following.
He keeps a constant distance of 15 to 20 seconds behind her. When she stops, he stops, rolls a cigarette, feigning legitimacy. They cross the street map of Melbourne. Bourke, Lonsdale, La Trobe. Down Elizabeth past Queen Victoria Market into Royal Parade, past Melbourne Uni where the last CCTV footage of her is recorded. 11.54pm.
At Princes Park, Dixon removes her shoes and walks into the new day. 12.02am. She messages Magnuson: “I’m nearly home, hbu?” Crosses two soccer pitches, steps onto the third, and Todd grabs her by her hair and the back of her dress.
He knocks her down. Sits on her chest. Starts choking her. Keeps one hand around her throat, uses the other to rip her clothes open. He rapes her digitally. He attempts to rape her again, cannot get an erection. He crushes her windpipe. Takes her phone, leaves the park, walks north.
2.14am. Todd sleeps on a bench at Royal Park Station. 3.55am. He crosses a bicycle track nearby and defecates, wiping himself with his T-shirt; leaves it there, the words “Where men fear to tread” coiling around a skull-like image on the fabric soiled with his own shit.
Returning to the station, he browses through Dixon’s phone. Uses her camera as a mirror to inspect the injuries on his face, neck and shoulders from when she defended herself. Leaves the station and retraces his steps, returning to Princes Park where he is moved on by police who established a crime scene after Dixon was discovered at 2.50am.
Todd catches a city-bound tram. Eats a pie, drinks a coffee. 5.50am. He takes a train home. 6.37am. Back in his room, back on his iPad, he searches for “Princes Park”. Reads about the discovery of a woman’s body. At 6.57am he googles “strangulation and rape porn”. Selects the first website, clicking on the category, “Strangled and brutally raped”. Navigates to a sub-category entitled, “Brutal rape, choking till death strangled forced videos”. Views two pages of results.
7am. On another porn site, he searches for brunette videos. 7.03am. Searches for “curvy emo girl”. Browses four pages of results.
A pretty normal day if you cut out those short hours, click through to the next page. Class. City with mates. Drinks, choof, Maccas. Sleeping rough, he’d done that plenty of times to avoid returning to what was at home. Train back to Broadie, to his room.
6.34pm. A mate calls. Todd’s face is on the news. He googles: “Broadmeadows police station number”. Calls the police saying it’s him on the news but he wasn’t involved in any death. His girlfriend of four years and her mother give him a lift to the police station; the mother suggests he let his folks know what’s happening. His mother meets him at the station.
During his interview Todd maintains his denials over 660 questions. The detective then explains the forensic process. How it will include a comparison of his DNA to that at the crime scene.
“Don’t worry about the DNA,” Todd says. “I did it. I’ll tell you everything.”
November 8, 2018. We learn Todd stalked Dixon through the city while she walked home. The news recalls the 2012 CCTV footage of Adrian Bayley, then 41, stalking Jill Meagher, 29, down Sydney Road before raping and strangling her.
January 16, 2019. The body of Aiia Maasarwe, 21, is found behind a hedge near La Trobe University. She had been attacked by Codey Herrmann, 20, while walking home on FaceTime with her sister. Three days later Herrmann is charged with rape and murder. His lawyer tells the court that Herrmann is on psychiatric medication. Later, appearing at a hearing via video link,Herrmann seems cooperative, engaged, weary. He pleads guilty.
April 24, 2019. The body of Natalina Angok, 32, is found against a wall in Chinatown.
May 26, 2019. The body of Courtney Herron, 25, is found behind logs in Royal Park, near where Dixon’s body was found.
When women are killed, beaten or sexually assaulted, they are mostly victimised at home and by men they know. On average, one woman is murdered each week by her current or former partner. But they are also attacked by men they don’t know. Causation is multi-factorial, individualised to each case; offenders have different pathologies, addictions, ages, social circumstances, educations. And yet all that complexity narrows to a singularity: violent control over women’s bodies. On a project called Counting Dead Women Australia, researchers from Destroy the Joint found that, as of mid September, 38 women had died in violent circumstances since the start of this year. Different circumstances, same outcome.
August 15, 2019. Because Todd has pleaded guilty – to one count each of murder, rape, attempted rape and sexual assault – no trial occurs. The purpose of the sentencing hearing in the Victorian Supreme Court, which will span two and a half days, is to inform Justice Stephen Kaye about the circumstances of the offender and his offending; matters which, together with the relevant sentencing principles and legislation, will determine the sentence Kaye imposes.
The strongest considerations in favour of Todd are his age, his guilty plea, his lack of prior convictions, and perhaps his autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Like light across a landscape, there will be changes both subtle and stark in the appearance of these facts as both sides make their pleas: about the gravity of his crimes and his moral culpability for them; how both considerations sit (for the sake of equal justice) in relation to sentences for similar offending; his risk of reoffending; which of the various purposes of sentencing should take primacy; and how all this should crystallise into units of time.
Under Victoria’s Sentencing Act 1991, sentences should: provide just punishment individualised to the seriousness of the crime; deter the offender and others from similar offending; promote the offender’s rehabilitation; denounce the criminal conduct; and/or protect the community. These purposes are intended to guide counsel in their arguments and judges in their decision-making process, but often they point in different directions.
You wouldn’t know it from the surgical precision of the tape flags in the piles of paperwork across the Bar table, or from the dialectic of submission and response that occurs at its centre, but a sentencing hearing is neither an inquisition into all facts nor a fully adversarial process demanding all matters pressed to be formally proved. Nor can the factors considered by the court be tidily classified as aggravating or mitigating. As professors Arie Freiberg and Richard Fox have written, “The choices are continuous rather than dichotomous in recognition of the fact that neither human behaviour nor sentencing, are simple”.
“Some matters will remain unknown to the sentencing judge,” the High Court has stated. “The question then becomes: What use is the sentencing judge to make of what is known …”
Unlike his crimes, Todd does not loom enormously. So innocuous is his presence that, even when preceded by the literal jangle of chains as his guards unlock his handcuffs and lead him into Courtroom Three, for some it fails entirely to register. This reflects a truth not infrequently seen: amid the traffic of our social settings, there is nothing so optically bland as a man who hates women. This is part of what makes them so deeply dangerous, so utterly terrifying.
Victim impact statements, filed by anyone directly affected by the crime, can be kept private or read out in court. Dixon’s sister stands to read hers, their brother at her side. She describes how the trauma of her sister’s murder has pervaded the lives of everyone in their family. How her own enormous grief has been immobilising. “Sadly, the strongest emotion I feel is anger,” she says.
This morning, George Halvagis, whose 25-year-old daughter Mersina was murdered in 1997 by Peter Dupas while visiting her grandmother’s grave, sits in a suit behind the media. He has come to offer his support to Dixon’s family. A woman walks over from where Dixon’s people sit and thanks him for coming. Halvagis, who has said his loss only gets harder every year, smiles at her from under the white brush of his moustache, folds her into a hug, his hand cradling the back of her head as they stand in two worlds: one the administrative milieu of Courtroom Three, the other a dimension of inordinate pain to which any of us could be granted eternal entry at any time. And there, in front of the prisoner’s dock, they show that the dominos of pain and rage can, sometimes, fall into each other and create their opposite.
“More than anything in the world, I want to see her,” Dixon’s sister says. Go for coffee. Sit on the couch. “Because she was murdered these things will never happen and I’ll never see my little sister again.”
It will be reported that Todd starts weeping at this point; that he finally shows emotion.
She says that Dixon lived an honourable life. “She was gutsy and determined and clever. And when I think of her, I feel proud and I feel inspired and, in this way, I’m surviving.”
Tony Magnuson reads his statement describing how Dixon’s murder eroded all aspects of his life. Each day is difficult to negotiate, triggers surfacing unexpectedly. “I know Eurydice would not want myself or her family to dwell on the bad and to move forward,” he says. Todd’s face crinkles a second time. “However … there is no doubt in my mind that I will never look at the human race the same way.”
To the extent that I can make such a judgement, watching from a metre away over two days, I cannot agree that Todd cried. The gesture was too swift, too exaggeratedly different from the others in his expressive wardrobe not to be performative. But I also do not agree that the purported weeping was the only time he showed emotion. He has been showing emotion continuously. He shows this emotion in the way he quick-walks the gauntlet from the courtroom doors past the media up into the plexiglass of the dock. He shows it in keeping his eyelids closed or at half-mast, and in how – when he must look – he does so swiftly and obliquely. In how he takes only shallow breaths, holding his head tilted slightly back as though avoiding a blow. In how, when Dixon’s sister first started speaking, her grief diffusing into the room like a heater on full blast, his lips flinched and flinched again before he returned to stillness. This emotion reads to me like the mix of shame and fear. But how, in the end, could it possibly matter?
Two experts give evidence and that evidence is psychological. Dr David Thomas, for the defence, and Professor James Ogloff, for the Crown, agree that Todd’s sexual sadism disorder (SSD) drove his offending. They disagree on the extent to which Todd’s other diagnosis of high-functioning autism (which they also refer to as Asperger’s syndrome) with some mild impairment of functional language, impacted that offending.
Both agree that there is no causal link between autism and offending; the vast majority of individuals with autism do not offend. But Thomas’s assessment is that Todd’s autism relevantly interacted with his SSD to result in the offending as it made him more rigid in the pursuit of his fantasy, less likely to desist. Differently, Ogloff concludes that Todd is sufficiently high functioning that his SSD is the relevant consideration. They differ, too, on his prospects of rehabilitation. Their emphases differ subtly but not insubstantially.
SSD is a paraphilia. Paraphilias are conditions in which sexual pleasure depends on fantasising about and engaging in extreme sexual behaviour; they become disorders when they cause distress or threaten harm. SSD is characterised by deriving sexual pleasure through causing, witnessing or fantasising about a non-consenting individual’s pain. Both experts agree it is not possible to treat the paraphilic interest underlying the disorder.
Thomas gives evidence about the characteristics of Todd’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We hear about his fixations and rigidity, his circumscribed emotional range and compartmentalised view of the world. We hear about his lack of central coherence, his problems integrating information into a broader context: how he mainly sees details pertaining to his own experience.
“Are you able to explain what ‘theory of mind’ is, and how that relates to things like empathy?” asks Tim Marsh, Todd’s barrister and chief counsel at Victoria Legal Aid.
“Theory of mind is a construct that speaks to the ability of an individual to appreciate or estimate the internal experiences of others,” Thomas replies from the witness box. He explains it is the ability to differentiate, and understand, what others might be thinking or feeling about a shared experience.
Marsh inquires whether Todd exhibited theory of mind deficits in interviews with Thomas.
Thomas replies that, when discussing the offending, it took Todd much effort to articulate what Dixon was perhaps perceiving during the attack. In Thomas’s view, Todd’s theory of mind deficits were relevant because, unlike offenders who don’t have ASD, the limitations of his empathetic imagination made it less likely he would desist.
Marsh asks whether a link exists between Todd’s increased consumption of violent pornography and his theory of mind deficits.
“I do think there is a connection between theory of mind deficits and perhaps the effect of audio-visual material that is consumed,” Thomas replies. “Even within a neurotypical population there’s evidence to show you get chronic habituation. You become, as it were, immune to or less affected by material.”
The black rosette on the back of senior Crown prosecutor Dr Nanette Rogers’ robe echoes the large white rosette on the ceiling above where she stands, curved like a cane at the lectern, bowed towards the notes for her cross-examination of Thomas. She directs him to a page in his report where he explained how Todd had shared that he had previously choked his partner during consensual sex, stopping at her signal.
“This means, doesn’t it, that he was aware that choking could cause discomfort?” Rogers asks.
“What, if anything, does it say to you about his ability to stop choking his partner at a sign but not in the instant offending?”
“The explanation is linked to the shift from a paraphilic interest to a paraphilic disorder,” Thomas replies. “And also the overwhelming impact of the fantasy, which makes it more difficult to moderate the behaviour.”
Justice Kaye leans forward to inquire whether Todd’s ability to desist with his girlfriend, and in the context of his sexual arousal, diminishes the role of his autism in the offending.
“This happened very early on in the relationship,” Thomas replies. “There’s no evidence at all that he was, at that point, consuming the kind of pornography that he consumed in the months leading up to the offence. There’s no evidence to suggest there was a preoccupation with severely violent fantasies and I do think that’s a very clear change in circumstance; there’s a reduced ability to respond to the normal emotional responses of others, largely because of this sort of compartmentalised view of the world.”
After confirming that an essential feature of ASD is persistent impairment in reciprocal social communication and interaction, Rogers directs Thomas to a phone conversation between Todd and his father in June 2018 during which he asks about his brother and says, at the end, “I love you” to his father. She asks how this squares with the paucity of social communication entailed by the diagnosis.
“I think the core deficit of autism isn’t a lack of social communication, it’s a qualitative deficit,” Thomas replies. “The way I could best explain it would be to say there are attempts made at social communication that most people will find awkward or wrong. I think the intel officer did make a note that the affective nature of his conversation was very inconsistent with the content of what he was saying.”
Thomas explains that the emotional quality of Todd’s conversation was totally wrong; the description is clearly sufficiently at odds with the Crown’s understanding that Rogers inquires whether Thomas might be referring to a different offender. He disagrees.
Thomas’s evidence is given more ambivalently perhaps than the defence might like; indicated by the way Marsh leads his witness back to statements that were made more clearly in his report. While doing so, Marsh’s masseter muscle is working hard enough to look like a gumball lodged at the back of his cheek. The difficulty may be due, generally, to the exceptions that beleaguer any assertion about the interior experience of an offender with a spectrum disorder. It may also be due to the complexity of this particular offender at the back of the room, mouthing a silent “thank you” to the guard who refills his water.
Justice Kaye asks Thomas whether he’s read the descriptions of Todd given by his friends. Thomas replies that he has but unfortunately not recently.
“Well,” Kaye continues, “his girlfriend said, ‘I found Jaymes to be a very normal person who seemed to always be quite happy and really good socially. He always laughed and made lots of jokes. I wasn’t really the social type of person and liked to keep to myself. Jaymes helped me to be more social as I felt I need to.’ That’s his girlfriend over a period of some years?”
Thomas affirms that it is.
Kaye reads out another statement from someone who knew Todd. “He was 100 per cent functioning in every way. He was an outgoing person who could easily talk to people, including strangers. Jaymes knew right from wrong. He would always apologise for his mistakes. He’s very rational, probably the most rational person I knew, so I’d often go to him for advice.”
“That’s hard to square with anything other than a mild impairment in social interaction, isn’t it?” Kaye says.
“Well, I would agree that it’s not severe to the extent that one might perhaps expect of someone with childhood autism, for example,” Thomas replies, countering with an observation made by the girlfriend about Todd’s “weird sense of humour”. “The sense I got was, over the years, Mr Todd has worked very hard to learn patterns of engagement with others.”
In important respects, he does not fit the mould. And, insofar as the utility of a mould is concerned, anyone who has ASD or has someone with ASD in their circle of intimates will emphasise that it is a spectrum. Perhaps this is why, to me at least, generalisations about lack of feeling seem off, insulting even. Asperger’s syndrome takes many forms but it is not interchangeable with psychopathy, which is the impression one may take from talk of lack of insight and empathy, of dark sexual urges.
Later, I come across comments in response to a mass shooting made by Marianne Kristiansson, professor of forensic psychology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who researches violent offending and ASD. She explains that offenders with ASD are not motivated by concrete reward – money or sex, for example. Rather, the motive is expressive. “Other people have treated you in a very bad way,” Kristiansson explains, “and you want revenge. You want to communicate that on a very global level to lots of people.” The form of expression depends on the person, and Kristiansson cites examples where fixations with guns or fire determined the nature of the violence involved in the offending.
But the link between ASD and violence has been questioned, with suggestions that the violence is accounted for by comorbid diagnoses. So if it is less Todd’s autism and more his sadism, how should we understand and respond to the former? As the very recent subsumption of Asperger’s syndrome into ASD in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) indicates, psychiatry is still learning. The law is well behind that.
Professor James Ogloff rises from the body of the court where he has been making notes in his Moleskine notebook, and takes the stand. Rogers directs him to a DSM-5 table listing ASD-severity levels. She asks where Todd sits on that table.
“Maybe even not quite at level one,” Ogloff answers.
Rogers asks whether Todd is below that level because of his ability to maintain a relationship over time.
Ogloff replies affirmatively that there are “many, many areas”: Todd engaged well in his clinical interview and quite well in his police interview. There were the depositions by those who knew him. “While certainly, in my opinion, he has a discernible social communication deficit, it would be, for most people, very difficult to identify because it is relatively subtle,” Ogloff says.
Todd’s repetitive behaviours were more extreme in childhood: rigidity around what he would eat, the train he would take. A child psychiatrist noted his near-fanatic focus on interests – dinosaurs, at one point. He had more trouble engaging when he was younger; was referred at 12 to mental health services by the school because of teachers’ concerns about his social interactions, his emotional state. In his teens, he had treatment to work on mood regulation, particularly his anger and frustration.
Ogloff is asked to respond to Thomas’s discussion of autism as a factor predisposing to violence.
“My view of the literature and the clinical experience I have is that, as Dr Thomas said this morning, obviously the vast majority of people with an autism disorder anywhere on the spectrum do not engage in offending, do not engage in violence, certainly do not engage in this form of violence. But it is acknowledged that there would be a small group of people who present in ways that would end up offending and being violent.
“So while people with autism are not over-represented, there’s been some degree of connection identified. Now, more often than not, there has been comorbid connections and they don’t have to be mental illnesses. There could be a range of factors above and beyond the autism [that] better explain the offending behaviour than the autism itself.
“And this is not dissimilar from mental illness; the vast majority of people don’t offend, they’re not violent and we know that the ones who do engage in those behaviours almost always have other factors that contribute. They may also have attitudes which support offending.
“So I was just trying to make the point here, based on the literature and my experience, that autism itself isn’t a sufficient explanation in the main for offending behaviour, and certainly not offending behaviour of the more extreme nature.”
They may also have attitudes that support offending. There is something that feels incomplete, although it is not Ogloff’s role to elucidate it. The answer of sexual sadism disorder restates the fundamental question: Why was Todd’s mind attracted like a magnet to the most hateful will-to-power over women?
This question is a rock thrown in the dark water of undifferentiated information. The answers are unknown but they may – they must! – be visible in the concentric circles expanding as it sinks: his nature, nurture, family, peers, school, neighbourhood, the screens he peered into as mirrors or windows, the constant radio transmissions from the social and political and commercial worlds orbiting around him. Hints of these circles pass through Courtroom Three then disappear, because the social concerns, those crucial concerns, are something the sentencing process can only deal with, if at all, obliquely, at a remove, and after the fact.
Here in Courtroom Three, where flowers and leaves are carved into walls, the wild world freezes into questions answerable in legal terms. What harm did he cause? How responsible is he for it? Though remorse means much for mitigation, should it count less if one is only capable of experiencing it intellectually? Do his youth and his ASD and his lack of priors mean he is less morally culpable for his crime or more dangerous to public safety, or both?
In the period before Dixon’s murder, he avoided going home. Slept rough. Spent weekends at his girlfriend’s, requesting to move in. She felt he avoided his home more right before the offending; there was a change in his behaviour that no one can explain. Perhaps it was the upcoming conclusion of his course, ambiguity about his future. Something else altogether.
“I think the home environment would almost certainly have contributed,” Thomas said. Not just the physical environment. Something else going on at home in terms of relationships that might have contributed.
Marsh submitted a video showing the police walk-through of the Todd family home while executing the search warrant. We cannot view it. Thomas, who did, described the home as being in a state of squalor and severe neglect. Certainly the most extreme he had seen in 18 years of practice. Within that environment was a family of five, multiple pets; the level of squalor precluded any healthy interactions. It was possible, in fact normal, for Todd to be in his room and unaware of who else was home.
That description, on day one of the hearing, caused a ripple of interest. Day two, when Marsh elaborated during his plea in mitigation, might have taken place on another planet, so different was the emotional climate in the room. His words hung over us like clouds, about to burst.
Todd has an older brother in his 20s, a younger brother about 17. All three lived with their parents in the Broadmeadows housing commission. The level of squalor was so longstanding that the kitchen had collapsed because the floor rotted away. Cooking occurred on a hotplate in the bathroom next to the toilet, which appeared blocked. Every room was stacked with refuse; it could not be discerned if each room was capable of habitation let alone inhabited. Food waste and other rubbish lay where it fell. This, Marsh said, made the fact that Todd would choose to sleep in parks, or the beach or wherever else, a bit more understandable.
We heard how Todd’s mother said the squalor occurred after she became depressed, and how Todd responded, “No, it’s always been like this.” Nothing of the father.
Ogloff had said disorganisation and discordance would be very difficult to tolerate, particularly for someone with autism, particularly at a younger age. I think of any child in that environment. Of the little boy obsessed with dinosaurs.
Marsh says no single event can be identified as precipitating Todd’s actions on the night of the murder, but if for no other reason than just his home environment, he was a young man living in circumstances of extraordinary tension and dysfunction. This was not limited to the squalor but was part of the highly unusual emotional environment of the home. About that milieu, we will be left to conjecture and a time-lapse image of a boy becoming a man in front of a screen on which women are raped then killed, scenarios that are increasingly dissatisfying because someone is not really dying.
To be not guilty of a crime by reason of mental impairment, the defence must prove that the offender was so ill that he did not know the wrongfulness of his actions. It’s an extremely high threshold and irrelevant to this hearing because guilt is not in issue at sentencing. The relevant principles here derive from a case called Verdins, and they state that a mental disorder, abnormality or impairment, including but not limited to mental illness, may influence the sentence in various ways.
It may: reduce moral culpability (as distinct from legal responsibility); influence the type of sentence imposed and the conditions in which it is served; moderate or eliminate the need to impose a sentence intended generally to deter similar behaviour in others; moderate or eliminate the need to impose a sentence intended specifically to deter the offender from reoffending in light of the effect of his condition on his capacity; or it may call for a reduction in severity, as the sentence may weigh more heavily on the offender than on a person in normal health.
Given the frequency of mental illness among those who come into contact with the criminal justice system, it is unsurprising that Verdins is cited frequently. Defence counsel have raised these principles in relation to everything from pre-existing mental illness to depression caused by the offender’s own offending, to the effects of chronic physical pain. So while it cannot yet be said that ASD is completely understood by our legal system, Todd’s sentence will likely show some allowance for it.
But, as Marsh concedes, it is “a wind that blows both ways”. The more mitigation he seeks on these grounds, the more he effectively concedes the need to imprison Todd for longer on grounds of public safety. So too regarding Todd’s age; the strongest consideration in favour of mitigation simultaneously speaks to one of the strongest arguments for his dangerousness.
The only person with a harder task than Marsh is Justice Kaye.
Something Thomas said about weak central coherence sticks in my mind. We could understand normal central coherence, he explained, through the example of someone describing a hot air balloon ride by saying, “It was beautiful.” Descriptions shouldn’t include minutiae like, “I saw a dog running across a backyard” or “A person was hanging their laundry.” It’s more normal to communicate the higher-level meaning.
Maybe. In psychology, as in law, we validate the myth of central coherence, deem it attainable, objective, because society requires certainty to function. But reality is pixelated, conflicted; so much remains inconveniently irreconcilable.
It was a surprising sentence though it did not seem disproportionate. The Crown had not sought a life sentence, sharing the defence’s view that Todd’s age was the preeminent argument against it. But, for the court, that argument was ultimately overshadowed by the seriousness of his offending; that is, the gravity of the harm and his culpability for it, as well as the risk he poses to public safety.
“To intentionally murder someone for the purposes of sexual gratification places your offending in one of the highest categories of murder,” said Kaye in the direct address of his sentencing remarks, which lasted nearly two hours. “Your actions in doing so were those of pure and unmitigated evil.” Todd’s face remained still when receiving that “dreadful sentence reserved for dreadful cases”: life, albeit with the possibility of parole in 35 years. He will be 55 when the parole board considers the risk he still poses.
When Kaye recounted the details of the damage Todd wrought on Dixon’s body, Todd’s face briefly crumpled like a tissue. When Kaye found that Todd’s autism did not directly contribute to his crimes, Todd became more animated; he overtly studied the clock, slowly sipped his water, scratched a cheek.
Regarding Todd’s empathic deficits Kaye stated that, when attacking Dixon, Todd knew he was causing severe distress. “Her suffering was the essence of the sexual arousal that drove your actions. Your obsessive fixation on enacting your dark and sick fantasy was what distorted the exercise by you of a proper human judgement, not your autism.”
He found that Todd’s autism did, however, play a minor role in his obsession with the violent pornography that fed his fantasy culminating in the crimes. To this limited extent, autism moderated his culpability. So too his dysfunctional background: “the circumstances of your home could not have assisted you to resist the impulses that drove the development of the sexual disorder that lay at the heart of your offending”.
Kaye found that Todd genuinely feels remorse, and that imprisonment will be harder for him than for neurotypical offenders. However, these considerations sat alongside the conclusion that Todd’s prospects of rehabilitation are very limited and the risk he poses to women is unacceptably great.
On balance – and the methodology of sentencing is a simultaneous and instinctual synthesis of all counter-vailing considerations – Kaye was satisfied that Todd choked Dixon to death to gratify his “depraved sexual desires” and, as such, his offending was “totally and categorically evil”. With no change to his customary expression, Todd followed his guards out, walking with his hands behind his back, ready for the cuffs.
Evil may exist categorically, and I often believe that it does, but it is an answer that offers no great protection. Outside, Dixon’s father told reporters: “What I wish for Jaymes Todd, and what I believe Eurydice would wish, is that he gets better and realises what he’s done. I extend my sincere sympathy to those who love him. It’s a terrible tragedy all round. Eurydice should be remembered for her wit, her courage and her kindness. Not for her death.”
Todd has gone from living in vermin-infested chaos to a cell he keeps fastidiously neat, organising his books according to height.
“For the sake of completeness,” Marsh had asked Ogloff, “there are likely some aspects of his experience in gaol … that he’s probably likely to find ironically less distressing than his environment at home?”
Ogloff agreed. The organisation and predictability were things Todd could find, at least in the short term, comforting.
At the 2019 Melbourne Fringe Festival was a show called Inconvenient Empathy: A Tribute to Eurydice.
Inconvenient Empathy was a show Eurydice Dixon wished to perform about the frustrations of being a feminist but sympathising with some of the arguments of the Men’s Rights Movement. As a tribute to their talented friend, comedians Duff, Sofie Prints and Andrew Roberts are presenting their version of the idea. They’re deeply committed to exploring the concept of “inconvenient empathy”, and doing it the best possible justice, but on some level would have liked it if Eurydice had just wanted to do a show about ducks.
Warning: Contains moderate coarse language, potentially triggering content or themes, including Violence, Sexual Assault or Abuse, Violence Against Women, Death
I read about Dixon’s show as I returned to Swanston Street, where I retraced her steps each morning coming into court, each afternoon going home. Where I stood alone many nights in my early 20s, having left shows, a brunette, curvy emo girl, 11.08pm.
I look different now, but to be a woman in Australia is always to be a type, a target, to someone.
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