By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh
For most people, the worst-case scenario of not paying their rent is getting kicked out of their place.
But not for Melbourne man, Ramis Jonuzi, 36, who was choked and beaten so severely by the man he was sharing an Airbnb house with that it caused his death, all over a dispute of $210 in unpaid rent.
On September 26, 2018, former chef, Craig Jonathan Levy, who pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Mr Jonuzi by “compression of the neck and blunt-force trauma to the head”, was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail over the fatal assault. The incident occurred on October 25 last year at Brighton East.
The Supreme Court heard that Mr Jonuzi, 36, was living in an Airbnb house on Alexander Street in the south-east Melbourne suburb. He owed payment for renting out a room in the house where Mr Levy, along with two other men, resided.
On the day of the attack, Mr Jonuzi had been asked to leave the room he rented from Mr Levy because he lagged behind with payments. He had his possessions packed and was ready to leave before an altercation suddenly began, prompted by Mr Levy.
The 37-year-old former chef restrained Mr Jonuzi inside the house, while one of the other men allegedly attacked him, choking him and heaving him against the wall.
Mr Levy then carried Mr Jonuzi outside, where he continued with the violent assault.
The court heard that throughout the attack, the men used Mr Jonuzi’s mobile phone to access his bank account.
According to prosecutor Raymond Gibson, at this point, the deceased was “crying and apologising”.
However, this did not stop Mr Levy from dropping his elbow on the deceased’s chest.
Mr Jonuzi was discovered in the front yard, face down in a chocolate cake with choke-hold-like injuries.
Levy’s Guilty Plea to Manslaughter Downgraded from Murder
Mr Levy’s plea of guilty to manslaughter arrived after the charge was downgraded from murder.
According to a pathologist, who previously addressed a committal hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court, Mr Jonuzi had suffered a wide range of injuries, including a broken nose, bruises and abrasions to his face, and wounds revealing prolonged pressure to his neck.
The pathologist concluded that the cause of death was determined as compression of the neck through a “choke hold”, where pressure is placed around a person’s throat with their arm, which is then aggravated by blood in the lungs.
Mr Levy Discovered to have Cannabis Dependency
Inside the court, it was also heard that the trained chef, in fact, had a considerable cannabis dependency, spending around $250 every week on the drug.
It was also revealed to the court that it was Mr Levy himself who called the police following committing the fatal crime.
According to defence lawyer Megan Tittensor, the attack was “senseless offending”.
“It’s something Mr Levy will forever carry with him,” the defence lawyer said.
“He knows his conscious will never be clear.”
A “Destroyed” Jonuzi Family
Mr Jonuzi’s sisters expressed that the killing of their brother has “destroyed” their family and that they will never forgive Mr Levy, despite saying he is sorry for ending the life of the Airbnb visitor.
“You chose not to do anything … you could have changed the outcome, but you didn’t,” Mr Jonuzi’s sister, Naime Balla, said of the crime.
“You have destroyed our family in every possible way.”
Meanwhile, another sister of Mr Jonuzi, Afradita Hamika, told Justice Andrew Tinney that the impact of the crime has left her not the wife and mother she once was. Moreover, being unable to hear her brother’s voice again was “unbearable”.
“I’ll never hear about his weekend, I’ll never hear his laugh,” she said.
Mr Jonuzi’s partner, Andrew Ross, also spoke to the court of his distress.
“He never deserved to die like this,” Mr Ross said.
Of the unrelenting and protracted attack on a man helpless who had done nothing to provoke it, Justice Tinney said Mr Jonuzi had been “cruelly and senselessly taken away from his family and loved ones.”
The Law and Penalty for Manslaughter in NSW
The offence of manslaughter in NSW carries a term of up to 25 years imprisonment under section 24 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
There are different kinds of manslaughter offences in NSW. In fact, there are two broad kinds of manslaughter offences in NSW:
- Voluntary Manslaughter; and
- Involuntary Manslaughter
Voluntary Manslaughter Offences
Voluntary manslaughter is if your conduct causes the victim’s death in circumstances of provocation, excessive self-defence, or while you had a ‘substantial impairment by abnormality of mind’.
In those circumstances, manslaughter is considered to have a lesser extent of criminality than murder under the law. In that sense, the voluntary types of manslaughter offences are considered partial defences to murder.
To understand manslaughter by provocation, it’s important to have a general understanding of what murder is in NSW.
What is ‘murder’? You can only be guilty of a ‘murder charge’ if:
- You committed a voluntary act which caused the victim’s death; and
- While committing that act, you:
- Had an intention to cause permanent or serious disfigurement or really serious injury to the victim; or
- Had an intention to kill; or
- Turned your mind to the probability of your conduct causing the victim’s death but did it anyway; or
- Committed any other crime carrying a penalty of 25 years imprisonment or more.
Manslaughter by Provocation
Under section 23 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), you will be guilty of manslaughter by ‘extreme provocation’ if:
- You committed the offence of murder explained above; and
- Your conduct causing the death was in response to the victim’s conduct (where the victim’s conduct was towards you or affecting you); and
- The victim’s conduct towards you (or affecting you) was a criminal offence carrying a penalty of at least 5 years imprisonment; and
- The victim’s conduct caused you to lose self-control in the sense that the act causing death was done while you were in an emotional state (distinct from a deliberate act of vengeance revenge or hatred); and
- The victim’s conduct that caused you to lose control could have (‘possibly) caused an ordinary person to lose self-control to the extent of intending to kill or inflicting a really serious injury on the victim.
An ‘ordinary person’ is considered someone who has the minimum powers of self-control expected of an ordinary citizen who is sober, of the same age and level of maturity as the offender.
Alcohol voluntarily consumed by the offender is to be disregarded when considering whether the ordinary person could have lost self-control in this way.
The following circumstances do not constitute ‘extreme provocation’:
- Where the offender’s conduct that caused the death was done in response to a non-violent sexual advance from the victim;
- Where the offender’s conduct that caused the death was done after you incited the victim to commit the conduct to give yourself an excuse to use violence against the victim
Manslaughter from ‘Substantial Impairment by Abnormality of Mind’
Manslaughter from ‘substantial impairment by abnormality of mind’ is another form of manslaughter under section 23A of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
You will be guilty of manslaughter from ‘substantial impairment by abnormality of mind if the following applies:
- Your actions caused the victim’s death; and
- At that time, your capacity to understand the events or judge whether your actions were wrong or right, or control yourself was ‘substantially impaired by an abnormality of mind’; and
- That ‘abnormality of mind’ arose from an underlying condition. This is where the condition was a pre-existing physiological or mental condition (not necessarily permanent).
- The impairment was so substantial that it warrants your liability for murder to be reduced to manslaughter.
An offender’s intoxication is to be completely disregarded when considering whether the above elements are satisfied in court.
Manslaughter by Excessive Self-Defence
Another form of voluntary manslaughter is where an offender applies force causing the victim to die while acting in excessive self-defence under section 421 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
You will be guilty of manslaughter by excessive self-defence if:
- You used force causing the victim to die; and
- You did what you did believing it was necessary to protect yourself from the victim; and
- A reasonable person in your position would consider that your lethal response was not reasonable (or will consider that your response was excessive) in the circumstances you perceived it.
Intoxication from voluntary consumption of alcohol or drugs can be considered in determining whether in the circumstances you perceived at the time you believed your actions were necessary to protect yourself. However, intoxication is not to be considered in determining whether or not your actions were a reasonable response to that perceived circumstance. This was held in the popular case of self-defence in R v Katarzynski  NSWSC 613.
Involuntary Manslaughter Offences
Involuntary manslaughter is when an offender causes another person’s death from committing an unlawful and dangerous act, or from criminal negligence.
Manslaughter by Unlawful and Dangerous Conduct
You will be guilty of manslaughter by unlawful and dangerous conduct if:
- You committed an act that caused the victim’s death in the sense that the act substantially contributed to the death; and
- You intended to commit the act that caused the death; and
- Your act was unlawful. This does not include a breach of a traffic regulation by itself; and
- Your act was dangerous in the sense that a reasonable person in your position at the time would have realised that the act exposed another person to a risk of serious injury in those circumstances.
Manslaughter by Criminal Negligence
You will be guilty of manslaughter by criminal negligence if:
- At the time, you owed a legal duty of care to the victim. It must be a legally recognised duty of care, including parent and child, or doctor and patient, employment relationship or where you assume a duty of care to another person; and
- You voluntarily committed an act (or omission) that caused the victim’s death in the sense that it was the substantial cause of death or it accelerated the death; and
- You acted (or omitted to act) in a way that breached your duty of care to the victim in the sense that you either:
- Failed to exercise the standard of care a reasonable person in your shoes would have exercised in the circumstances you found yourself in at the time; or
- Or where you did what a reasonable person in your position would not have done in the circumstances you found yourself in at the time; and
- Your actions (or omission) constituted criminal negligence and merited criminal punishment for manslaughter in the sense that:
- Your actions fell so far below the standard of care which a reasonable person would have exercised in the circumstances; and
- Those actions involved such as great risk that death or really serious bodily harm would be caused.; and
- Due to that it deserves to be punished as a serious criminal offence.
Manslaughter by criminal negligence would not include careless or negligent acts that frequently occur in society. Nor would it include a simple traffic infringement from driving unless it carries that quality of criminal negligence meriting criminal punishment for manslaughter.