By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Last week, a religious fanatic from Queensland who convinced his wife to end her life so he could access her $1.4 million life insurance was sentenced to jail for 10-years in a world-first legal conviction.
Graham Robert Morant was found guilty on the charges of counselling suicide and aiding suicide (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-11-02/man-who-helped-wife-suicide-sentenced-to-ten-years-jail/10427890) after encouraging and helping his wife, Jennifer Morant, to kill herself in her car in 2014.
The 69-year-old self-proclaimed religious pastor also assisted her with buying the required equipment from a hardware store to carry out the suicide.
Mr Morant was the sole beneficiary of his wife’s three life insurance policies, and the court found that he planned to use the money to build a religious commune in the Gold Coast Hinterland which would serve as a haven from the biblical rapture.
As the first person to be convicted of the crime of counselling someone to suicide in a landmark case, the sentence sets a national and international precedent.
Self-Style Pastor Convinces Wife to Gas Herself in Car
Ms Morant suffered from anxiety, chronic back pain and depression.
However, while the 56-year-old lived with the chronic pain and mental health conditions, sometimes finding simple everyday tasks difficult, she did not have a terminal illness.
According to her husband, Ms Morant wanted to die.
In his interview with police, Mr. Morant said, “I had such a zest and zeal to live. She had such a zest and zeal to die,”.
Over several months in 2014, he then persuaded his wife to take her life (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/oct/02/gold-coast-man-who-stood-to-gain-14m-life-insurance-payout-encouraged-wifes-suicide), assuring her that her suicide would not be considered a sin in God’s eyes due to the financial benefit to their church that her funds would go towards.
According to Ms Morant’s sister, Lynette Anne Lucas, the pastor also swayed her to believe that she would be too weak to survive the rapture.
On 30 November 2018, Ms Morant’s body was found by police gassed in her car with a note saying, “please don’t resuscitate me”.
Ms Morant Did Not Want to Kill Herself: Best Friend of Wife Testifies
At Mr Morant’s hearing, two witnesses close to his wife testified that she did not want to kill herself, including her best friend, Judy Cornelia Dent.
Dent said Ms Morant was scared by her husband’s pressure to kill herself and the only way she felt she could escape death was to win the lottery.
Eventually, she took her life under the pressure of her husband.
Mr Morant “Took Advantage” of a Vulnerable, Sick and Depressed Woman
During the sentencing, Justice Peter Davis said Mr Morant “took advantage” of his wife’s vulnerability as a “sick and depressed woman”.
However, Mr Morant maintained his innocence (https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/queensland-man-denies-assisting-wifes-suicide-for-her-14m-insurance-policy/news-story/e6556d268f336b88d45810fb4422690e), while his defence team primarily asserted he had no role in his wife’s death, before arguing that his assistance in her suicide was propelled by compassion and wanting to alleviate her pain.
“You counselled your wife to kill herself because you wanted to get your hands on the $1.4 million,” Justice Davis said.
He also said it was evident that as of 2014, Mr Morant wasn’t a wealthy person, had only a small amount of money, held no superannuation, and was rife with credit card debts.
“Your general financial position was such that $1.4 million was a very significant sum, as it would be for most people,” he said, concluding this was the motivation for his movements.
“You have not shown any remorse for the offences you have committed.
“You did not plead guilty and you did no cooperate with the administration of justice.”
Mr Morant Sentenced to 10-Years in Jail
Justice Davis sentenced Mr Morant to 10-years in prison for the counselling charge, and six years for the charge of aiding suicide.
“Consistent with the directions I gave the jury, the jury has concluded but for the counselling Ms Morant would not have ended her life,” Justice Davis said.
“The offences are serious.”
The jury had deliberated for one and a half days before reaching its verdict, all the while, members shed tears after the decision was handed down.
Outside the court, Ms Morant’s best friend spoke of the upsetting situation.
“I don’t think there’s any winners in this situation and it’s been a long four years,” Ms Dent said.
“She was very bubbly, very full-on, very engaging … she made friends everywhere she went and she was just a wonderful person.”
Mr Morant will be eligible to apply for parole on 23 October 2023.
The Law and Penalties for Aiding or Abetting the Suicide of Others
In NSW, suicide and attempted suicide are no longer crimes, which means you cannot be charged with attempting to commit suicide. The survivor of a suicide pact will also not be guilty of murder or manslaughter. This is outlined in Section 31A (http://www5.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/ca190082/s31a.html) and 31B of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
However, assisting someone else to commit suicide is still treated very seriously by the law and it is still punishable by long jail terms, which can be up to 10 years.
There are two offences connected with suicide, and these relate to encouraging, counselling, aiding or abetting someone to commit suicide. In such cases, you can face criminal charges, even if suicide is not the end occurrence.
A person guilty of aiding or abetting the suicide (or attempted suicide) of another person will face a penalty of up to 10-years imprisonment pursuant to section 31C of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/ca190082/s31c.html).
A person who even incites or counsels someone else to commit suicide in circumstances where that other person either commits or attempts to commit suicide as a result will face a penalty of up to 5-years imprisonment.
If dealt with in the Local Court, the maximum penalty is a term of up to 2-years imprisonment or $11,000 fine.
Do You or Anyone You Know Need Help?
If you or anyone you know is in need of crisis support or someone to talk to, contact:
Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline (for ages 5-25) on 1800 551 800
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
Headspace on 1800 650 890
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 078
Psychological abuse and control in a relationship is considered a type of domestic violence in Australia.
Some common types of domestic violence includes Assault occasioning actual bodily harm offences in NSW (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/criminal-law/offences/assault/assault-occasioning-actual-bodily-harm/).
For a more detailed outline, see our blog on ‘the law and penalties for domestic violence in NSW (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/blog/what-is-the-law-and-penalties-for-domestic-violence-in-nsw/).’
Have any questions arising from this blog?
Our team are available 24/7 and we attend all courts.
We have criminal defence lawyers in Wollongong (https://www.criminaldefencelawyers.com.au/about-us/offices/wollongong/), Newcastle, Penrith and Parramatta.