true crime

Why a mother who drowned her children in a Melbourne lake has had her sentence reduced.

In 2015, Sudanese refugee Akon Guode made national headlines when she drove her Toyota SUV into Melbourne’s Wyndham Vale lake. Inside the car were four of her small children. Three of them died.

Now, the Victorian Supreme Court has reduced her sentence from 26 years with a minimum of 20, to 18 with a minimum term of 14, with the consideration of the time she’s already served.

Guode plead guilty to murdering her four-year-old twins Hangar and Madit and her 16-month-old son Bol, and attempted murder of 5-year-old Alual, but appealed the sentence she was given in 2017.

Although Guode’s history was widely reported at the time, and was considered in the original sentencing, The Court of Appeal has now found the term was “manifestly excessive.”

“Had adequate weight been given to the applicant’s mental condition and other factors in mitigation, we consider that significantly more lenient sentences would have been imposed,” SBS reports the Court says in its decision.

In reducing the sentence, the justices note the gravity of the crimes, but say that Guode’s “situation is pitiable”.

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The appeal decision also states that Guode’s “capacity to make calm and rational decisions was severely compromised by a mental condition which was not of her own making”.

During the original trial, defence counsel Marcus Dempsey asserted Guode’s case was unique because of her traumatic background and the “unspeakable horror” of her life in Sudan.

The court heard that Guode witnessed the murder of her husband and was held captive and raped until she fled to Uganda, finally coming to Australia and being granted refugee status in 2009.

Settling in Melbourne, Guode commenced a relationship with Joseph Manyang and had four more children. She was unaware that Manyang was still married at the time, but she was nevertheless ostracised by the Sudanese community for having an ‘affair’.

Mr Dempsey said Guode was hence isolated, and had no help from the father of the youngest children. Struggling to cope, she was depressed and in debt.

Health issues further complicated Guode’s situation. During the birth of her youngest child, Bol, she suffered a significant haemorrhage, and later developed post-traumatic stress disorders from her experiences in Sudan.

For these reasons, whilst the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial judges that Guode “fatefully and irredeemably breached” her maternal obligations when she deliberately drowned her children, they concluded “her capacity to make calm and rational decisions was severely compromised by a mental condition which was not of her own making”.

As a refugee, and not an Australian citizen, Guode could be deported upon the completion of her sentencing, which is likely as her Australian-born children would no longer be minors.

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