Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Man jailed 21 years for flatmate murder

A Melbourne man who shot dead his flatmate after granting him the wish of a final beer has been sentenced to 21 years jail.

Michael Patrick Flaherty, 38, allowed Stephen John Witham two last wishes - a beer and not to shoot him in the face.

After the pair shared the beer, Flaherty shot Mr Witham, 42, in the back of the head.

In sentencing Flaherty, Victorian Supreme Court Justice Stephen Kaye said it was clear the murder was premeditated.

"Your murder of Stephen Witham can only be described as cold-blooded, callous and ruthless," Justice Kaye said.

"The intentional shooting of Witham in the back of his head was brutal, callous and utterly cowardly.

"It is not difficult to imagine the sheer terror of your helpless victim in the last hours of his life."

With the assistance of friends, Flaherty had earlier beaten Mr Witham in his bed at their flat in Berwick in outer-Melbourne in August 2006 and then bundled him in a car boot.

As they drove toward a remote property in Gippsland, Mr Witham escaped but was chased down, caught and tied up.

Once they arrived at the Mirboo East property, Witham was taken from the car and requested a final beer from a six-pack Flaherty was carrying after he had cried while pleading for his life.

When he finished the beer, Flaherty pushed Mr Witham over an embankment and into a dense pine plantation where he shot him.

Mr Witham's remains were found in January, more than 16 months after the murder.

The Victorian Supreme Court was told that Flaherty murdered Mr Witham because he was enraged the flatmate would not leave the flat.

Justice Kaye said he accepted Mr Witham had been a tough flatmate, whom the court heard had been domineering and had assaulted Flaherty's girlfriend and her child.

Flaherty had been unable to cope with the situation and unsuccessfully tried to have Mr Witham evicted.

The court heard Flaherty had been a promising student as a youth, but left school to take up an apprenticeship in year 11.

He became involved in illicit drugs and alcohol, but had maintained regular employment throughout his life working as a plasterer until his arrest last year.

The court heard Flaherty confessed to the murder immediately after his arrest.

Justice Kaye ordered Flaherty, who pleaded guilty to one count of murder, serve a minimum of 16 years in prison.

He said had Flaherty not pleaded guilty he would have been sentenced to 23 years with a minimum of 18.

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