Domestic violence victim Rekiah O’Donnell was killed by her partner. But Rekiah’s family believe the perpetrator “got away with murder” because of a troubling legal loophole.
Warning: this item deals with domestic violence and may be distressing for some readers.
Rekiah O’Donnell was just 22 years old when a bullet brought her life to an abrupt halt.
But the abusive thug who shot her in the head, Nelson Lai, wasn’t found guilty of murder.
Instead, 35-year-old Lai was found guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter — despite shocking evidence showing he had violently abused Rekiah for years, and despite the fact that he’d texted her “I’ll kill you, rat” prior to the October 11, 2013 killing.
During his trial, Lai’s lawyers claimed the Sunshine man had been ‘coming down’ from the drug ice when he picked up a gun and pulled the trigger. Lai said he was minding the weapon for a friend, and didn’t know it was loaded.
It was excuse enough for a court to downgrade Lai’s conviction from murder to manslaughter — and that surprising verdict, delivered on 13 May, has left Rekiah’s family reeling. Now, they’re demanding change.
“Any amount of time (in jail) will never be enough, of course,” Rekiah’s brother Jesse O’Donnell told Mamamia of Lai’s sentence. “We were obviously hoping for a murder conviction which could have been anywhere up to a mid-3o range.”
Of the sentence Lai now faces — which could be as short as mere years — Jesse says: “Who knows what else he could do when he comes out?”
Jesse has “no single doubt” in his mind that Lai killed the young women intentionally.
“There was so much evidence including threats to kill… days before he killed her,” he explained in a segment on A Current Affair aired last night.
Rekiah’s family is now calling on the State Government to implement “Rekiah’s law”, an amendment that would ensure abusers like Lai are unable to use the fact they were high on drugs, or didn’t know there were bullets in the gun, to escape murder convictions.
“Rekiah’s law, in a nutshell, will be a law that says that anyone who points a gun at anybody, without doing it in self-defence, will be held responsible and (convicted of) murder,” Jesse said.
Sign the Change.org petition calling for Rekiah’s law here.
“We want to ensure that people can’t use ridiculous excuses to get out of it, such as not knowing there are bullets in the gun, or using drugs or alcohol,” he said.
“So what this is going to stop is people like that actually getting away with murder.”
Jesse, now 22 himself, has set up a Facebook page promoting Rekiah’s Law, while his best friend Dale Chapman, 21, has created a Change.org petition calling for legislative change.
And now, they’ve been provided a glimmer of hope — with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announcing that the state government will ask the Royal Commission into Family Violence to assess current laws.
It’s a move welcomed wholeheartedly by Jesse, who says he’s “hopeful” serious change will result.
“I’m very determined to get this changed, because I now know how it feels to have lost someone due to this, and basically knowing that the justice system doesn’t care is absolutely heart-wrenching.
“You live your whole life thinking ‘it’s okay, the justice system is behind us, the government is behind us,’ so to find the legal system to have not cared at all is the most gut-wrenching thing.”
“Me and my family and friends are very determined to make sure no other family has to go through this.”
The number of women killed each week by a partner or family member has almost doubled since last year, and domestic violence is the single greatest killer of women aged between 15 and 44.
So far, 25 women have died in 2015 alone in circumstances of alleged domestic violence. Regardless of class, age, location, race or religion, every woman is at risk.
It’s a fact that Jesse and the rest of the O’Donnell family know all too well — and that’s why they’re urging all Australians to join their push for Rekiah’s law.
“Nobody knows how many people are actually going through issues like this, how many people they actually know who are going through it- and these laws will actually help protect them as well,” he says.
“It could be your family, it could be your friend, and they could be next. If they like this page, if they share it… We are going to do our very best to make sure that no other family has to go through this.”
Watch the full A Current Affair segment here:
The following women have died in 2015 alone in circumstances of domestic violence or alleged domestic violence: