A mother who killed her three youngest children when she deliberately drove her car into a lake has had more than eight years cut from her original prison sentence following the latest legal challenge.
Akon Guode repeatedly circled Lake Gladman in Wyndham Vale on April 8, 2015 before driving into the water with four of her children in the car. Four-year-old twins Madit and Hangar and 16-month-old Bol all drowned, while their older sister, then aged five, was rescued by passers-by.
Akon Guode at her children’s funeral in April 2015.Credit:Chris Hopkins
In 2017, Guode was jailed by Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry for 26 years and six months after she pleaded guilty to two charges of murder, one of attempted murder and one of infanticide. The rare charge of infanticide applies to women who kill their biological children in instances where the mother is affected by a mental health problem related to childbirth, and applies only to children under two.
After Justice Lasry's sentence, Guode's lawyers went to the Victorian Court of Appeal, which reduced the prison term. Prosecutors then took the case to the High Court of Australia, which in March, by a 3-2 majority ruling, quashed the Court of Appeal's 2018 findings and ordered the mother be re-sentenced.
On Wednesday the Court of Appeal ordered Guode serve 18 years in prison and at least 14 before she is eligible for parole.
That sentence is the same one the three appeals judges ordered in 2018, however they noted in Wednesday's findings they had addressed the point the High Court found to be an error of law.
Akon Guode’s car in the lake where three of her children died in April 2015.Credit:Pat Scala
The Court of Appeal found there were powerful mitigating features in Guode's favour: her mental health problems – which developed after Bol's traumatic birth and led to Guode requiring life-changing surgery – reduced her moral culpability, she was a mother of eight with financial problems and socially isolated from her community as a result of her relationship with a married man.
Her younger years were marked by the horrors she experienced in her native Sudan, which included witnessing her husband's murder by militia, and her exposure to other violence.
The appeals court acknowledged Guode breached her children's trust – they were buckled in their car seats and couldn't swim – but found her mental health "severely compromised" her capacity to make calm, rational decisions. As such, she was entitled to a degree of mercy and Justice Lasry's original sentence was manifestly excessive.
The new sentence means Guode, 41, who has spent more than five years in custody, could be free in less than 10. She is expected to be deported once released from prison.
One-year-old Bol and twins Hangar and Madit.
Prosecutors have the right to again appeal against the latest legal ruling but are expected not to. The Office of Public Prosecutions declined to comment.
If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131 114, or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.
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