Sentencing of Julian Knight

“Julian Knight - The Hoddle St Massacre” 

Sentencing of Julian Knight

Sentencing of Julian Knight


Julian Knight was sentenced in Court 4 of the Supreme Court of Victoria at Melbourne, on Thursday the 10 th November 1988. The sentencing judge was the judge who had heard his plea, Mr Justice George Hampel. Justice Hampel was, at that time, a 54-year-old judge who had been on the Supreme Court bench since 1983. He was a former criminal lawyer who had been admitted to the Bar in Victoria in 1958, and who had been made a Queen's Counsel in 1976. The following is the official court transcript of his sentencing of Julian Knight.


Julian Knight, on the 9 th August 1987 you were responsible for one of the worst massacres in Australian history as a result of which seven people died and nineteen were injured. Many more were fortunate to escape death or injury as you indiscriminately fired over 100 rounds of ammunition, from three weapons, at passing motorists and at the police as they tried to apprehend you.

When you were finally arrested, you were fully co-operative with the investigating police and Dr Bartholomew who examined you. You described and demonstrated what you had done in detail and tired to explain how it all came about.

The surviving victims and the community at large were understandably horrified and justifiably outraged at what you had done. At the same time there was, and I think there still is, a sense of bewilderment as to why a highly intelligent, educated young man of 19 years of age, with no previous criminal history, could have done what you did.

Some of the answers have now been provided. You have been thoroughly examined, tested and assessed by two highly qualified and experienced psychiatrists, Drs Bartholomew and Sime, and an equally eminent psychologist, Dr Byrne. Your family, teachers and friends were interviewed and comprehensive reports, which have been of great assistance to me, were prepared.

According to all the evidence, the answers to what you did lie in your background, your fragile and disordered personality, and ultimately in your inability to cope with the accumulation of pressures and stresses which operated on you.

It is not necessary to recount fully the details of your background and the matters which led up to the tragedy on the 9 th August last year. Most of those matters were mentioned in the plea made on your behalf by Mr Richter, QC. They appear in the reports which have been exhibited and they have been widely publicized recently. It is, however, necessary to refer to some of those matters in general terms.

You are an adopted child and were brought up with two younger adopted children. You became aware of that fact at an early age and you sought to discover your biological mother's name. Despite your IQ of 132, which puts you in the top 3 percentile of the population, you were an under-achiever at school where you had motivational and behavioural problems. As a result, you had to change high schools twice but finally completed your HSC in 1985 at Melbourne High School.

Thereafter, you had a short, unhappy period at La Trobe University where you felt emotionally and socially isolated. You discontinued your course and for most of the rest of 1986 you were unemployed.

Since childhood you have been fascinated with military life and war and you did not grow out of that as most young boys do. In fact this became an obsession. War history, battle scenes and combat became part of your fantasy world. Your fantasy life was built around heroic killing in battle situations, ending up in victory or your own death in the so-called "last man" stance. From an early age you became fascinated with firearms, and later received encouragement and training in their use. At the age of twelve you were given a rifle. At fourteen you joined the [Army] Cadets where you remained until the end of your schooling and received training in the use of a variety of firearms. By eighteen you had a .22 rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun. On the 9 th August last year you owned a rifle, a shotgun and a lethal M14 high-powered rifle. In 1986 [In fact, in November 1985] you joined the Army Reserve and later that year were accepted at Duntroon Military College where you commenced as a Cadet in January 1987. Your adoptive father was a career army officer. Although your adoptive parents separated when you were about twelve and you felt rejected by your father, nevertheless you admired him and wanted to be like him. You have always wanted to be a soldier and getting into Duntroon was the ultimate achievement for you. In fact your time there turned out to be one of a series of events which, according to the evidence of the experts, contributed to your final inability to cope.

You did not do well at Duntroon and could not cope with the pressures of life and discipline at such an institution. Your perception was that you were ill-treated and dealt with unjustly. You clashed with your superiors and ultimately, as a result of an incident in which you stabbed a sergeant with a pocket knife, you had to leave Duntroon and return to Melbourne in early July 1987.

As Dr Sime pointed out in his report, there is no doubt that when you left Duntroon you were in a highly stressed and emotionally fragile state and were depressed. This reaction was to build up even further in the setting of your attempts to come to terms with your life and the total collapse and disintegration of your life's ambitions. In the weeks that followed, a number of events contributed to accentuate the state described by Dr Sime.

When you returned home your room had been converted into a sitting room, your clothes were in boxes and you were sleeping on a folding bed. You felt rejected.

It was at this time that you attempted to contact your biological mother in South Africa and received no response.

You experienced difficulties in re-establishing relationships with your friends and you were rejected by your former girl-friend for whom you still had strong feelings. She did not want to have further contact with you. Two days before the shooting you discovered that she was giving a party to which your friends had been invited but from which you were specifically excluded.

You purchased a car, had problems with it and incurred a substantial debt which you could see no hope of repaying.

You contemplated rejoining the Army Reserve or enlisting in the Police Force, but these hopes were shattered because of the circumstances in which you had to leave Duntroon.

As a result of the combination of all of those factors you felt rejected and lonely. On the very night of the shooting you drank alone at a hotel near your home and you tried to engage strangers in conversation. You tried to speak to a barmaid who ignored you and you felt rebuffed.

It was from there, after consuming a substantial amount of beer, that you went home, armed yourself and went out on your rampage. Your mental state at that time has been variously described by the experts who examined you as "running amok", being in a "pseudo-commando" state, acting out a "fantasy" and switching into a "military mode". Dr Bartholomew saw your conduct from the time you fired the first shot as a "total ongoing piece of behaviour" which from the psychiatric point of view, once started would continue until the ammunition ran out or apprehension or death. The doctor thought that you probably acted in a state of modified consciousness of what was going on and possibly with some degree of disassociation.

Dr Byrne, who conducted several psychological tests on you, also used a recognized method of plotting the degree of stress which had built up from the time you started at Duntroon until the night of the shooting. This, he reported, was useful in trying to understand your actions, no doubt in the context of increased stress with medical and psychological illness, it was significant in Dr Byrne's view that the level of stress which operated on you produced an 89% chance of serious illness.

It is understandable in those circumstances that, as Mr Richter submitted, you "snapped", and as Dr Bartholomew said in evidence, although you were not medically or legally insane, you were suffering from a personality disorder with marked hysterical features and could be described as being abnormal or "crazy" in lay terms.

There is some difference of opinion between Dr Sime on the one hand and Drs Byrne and Bartholomew on the other as to the likely precise state of mind you were in when you commenced firing the shots. Dr Sime favoured the view that you were in an abnormal state of mind with reality and fantasy so mixed up that it was not possible later to determine whether at the time of the shooting you were responding to a psychotic delusion or the fantasy. The others were of the opinion that you were able to distinguish fantasy from reality and in that sense you were not acting in a state of psychotic delusion.

In my opinion it is unnecessary, for the purposes of sentencing you, to attempt to determine, even if that were now possible, the precise nature of your mental aberration at the time of the shooting. It is sufficient to say that I proceed to sentence you on the basis that although you were not medically or legally insane, you had a diagnosable serious personality disorder, a mental condition which all the professional witnesses recognize and accept existed and operated on you at the relevant time. Following the approach by the Full Court in R v Anderson [1981] VR 155 , adopted in R v Dumas [1988] VR 65 , I take into account your mental condition, not by way of reducing your responsibility for the crimes you have committed, but because in sentencing you little weight can be given to the considerations of personal or general deterrence.

On your admission to Pentridge, you became depressed and suicidal and received treatment at the prison hospital. Your state gradually improved and you returned to H Division. Since then you have undergone many interviews and tests. Your EEG [Electroencephalogram] and your CAT [Computerized Axial Tomographic] scan showed no abnormalities. Your condition has subsequently improved and you are currently undertaking a series of courses towards a Bachelor of Arts degree.

As to your future, it seems that no treatment is indicated but some professional help may be advantageous. Dr Bartholomew thought that you would get such attention because your case is one which is likely to arouse professional interest. Your prognosis is undoubtedly better than that of someone with brain damage because it appears that your condition is likely to improve as you mature over a period of years when you will cease to be a danger to the public. It was common ground among the doctors that in 20-25 years time the degree of change and therefore the degree of danger which you present can be assessed. In that sense it is thought that your prognosis is reasonable, particularly as you are bright and have a desire to better yourself.

I think that the thorough investigation by the police and by all those who examined and assessed you over the past fourteen months has helped the community to understand how this tragedy came about. Your co-operation has helped that process. Such an understanding may help to appease some of the outrage and anger which naturally exists. However, to understand your actions is not to excuse them. Nor do the explanations provide all the answers to the difficult sentencing issues which your case presents.

It is true, as Mr Richter pointed out in his plea, that the community which now looks to this Court to impose appropriate punishment on you must also bear in mind that it enabled the situation to exist in which a young man of 19, encouraged and trained in the use of weapons in combat situations, was permitted to own lethal weapons and have them within easy reach. All this, with the knowledge that some people, particularly some young, less mature people who may be fragile and who may not have the make-up to cope with the stresses and influences on them, may snap and go berserk.

Unfortunately, our society has not yet matured sufficiently to remove such influences and opportunities and to re-order its priorities so as to ensure, as far as possible, that the use of lethal weapons is not encouraged and their availability is strictly controlled. It is true that murder may be committed with other weapons, but it is also true that many killings occur because a firearm is at hand and mass killings rarely occur without the use of lethal firearms. As Dr Sime said in his evidence, the availability of and easy access to firearms were important factors in these killings. These are important considerations and they give rise to difficult issues which the community has realized it must face, particularly recently in the light of your crimes and other recent shootings. In this context, I respectfully adopt the comments made by the State Coroner at the inquest into the Queen Street deaths [7 October 1988 - Ref: Victorian State Coroner's File Nos 5345/87-5353/87] to the effect that all the community can do is to understand why such horrors occurred and try to reduce the risks.

What I must do is to sentence you by applying the law and giving effect to the relevant sentencing considerations. As I have already said, general deterrence, and to a greater extent, personal deterrence, are not as significant in this case as they may be in others, although I am mindful of the well recognized "copy cat" phenomenon in mass killings.

In balancing the various sentencing considerations, I am conscious of what the High Court said recently in Veen v R (No 2) (1988) 62 ALJR 224 , 164 CLR 465 , while re-affirming the principle of proportionality in sentencing and warning against increasing sentences beyond what is proportionate to the crime so as to protect society from the risk of recidivism on the part of the offender. Particularly pertinent is the following passage in the majority judgement [at CLR page 476]:

However, sentencing is not a purely logical exercise, and the troublesome nature of the sentencing discretion arises in large measure from unavoidable difficulty in giving weight to each of the purposes of punishment. The purposes of criminal punishment are various: protection of society, deterrence of the offender and of others who might be tempted to offend, retribution and reform. The purposes overlap and none of them can be considered in isolation from the others when determining what is an appropriate sentence in a particular case. They are guideposts to the appropriate sentence but sometimes they point in different directions. And so a mental abnormality which makes an offender a danger to society when he is at large but which diminishes his moral culpability for a particular crime is a factor which has two countervailing effects: one which tends towards a longer custodial sentence, the other towards a shorter.

These effects may balance out, but consideration of the danger to society cannot lead to the imposition of a more severe penalty than would have been imposed if the offender had not been suffering from a mental abnormality.

There is, however, a clear distinction between an impermissible extension of sentence which amounts to preventative detention and an exercise of the sentencing discretion which has permissible regard to the protection of society.

There are, in your case, a number of significant mitigatory factors, such as your age, the absence of prior convictions, your abnormal mental state, your co-operation and plea of guilty and the fact that, from one point of view, the killing and attempted killing of so many people can be seen as part of one continuous course of conduct. It is also significant that these killings were not motivated by gain or revenge and were not accompanied by acts of torture or cruelty. However, as Mr Dickson pointed out, they were random and particularly "public" crimes which caused not only deaths and injury, but also a great amount of suffering to so many people.

Recently, in R v Dumas , the Full Court [of the Supreme Court of Victoria] said [at pages 71-2]:

The crime of murder is a crime of the utmost gravity. In our opinion, it does not admit of categorising each offence into degrees of gravity. While the new legislation [ Crimes (Amendment) Act 1986 (Vic) - now superseded by the Sentencing Act 1991 (Vic)] will permit courts to sentence persons convicted of murder to terms of years and even to fix relatively low minimum terms in appropriate cases having regard to various facts which may be taken into account in mitigation of the penalty, nevertheless, the sentence of Life imprisonment will still be appropriate for a wide variety of deliberate criminal killings ... It will be a mistake if the question of the head sentence to be imposed is approached upon the basis of considering whether there could, in a practical sense, be murders of worse gravity than the one before the court.

The only realistic approach to sentencing you for such a number of murders and attempted murders is, in the circumstances of this case, on a global basis, although in theory one could differentiate between the various counts. Approaching the matter in this way, to my mind, the only appropriate overall sentence which must be imposed, despite the mitigatory factors I have mentioned, is one of Life imprisonment. This is so because those mitigatory factors are outweighed by the nature and multiplicity of the crimes you have committed and the requirement that the sentences must be proportionate to the crimes. Accordingly, you are sentenced to be imprisoned for Life in respect of each of the seven counts of murder.

For each of the 46 counts of attempted murder, you are sentenced to be imprisoned for ten years. These terms will be served concurrently with each other and concurrently with the Life sentences.

A substantial part of the submissions before me was directed towards the question of the minimum term. The fixing of a minimum term serves a number of purposes and is designed to satisfy both the needs of the community and the offender. A minimum term is not a period at the end of which the prisoner is released. It is a period before the expiration of which, having regard to the interests of justice, he cannot be released.

In sentences for murder if a minimum term is fixed it must be fully served. No remissions operate to reduce it. As the Court of Criminal Appeal said in Dumas [at page 71]:

The power to fix a minimum term may, and no doubt will, be exercised as a means of converting an indeterminate sentence into a finite one in cases where the proper authorities consider that after the minimum term has expired it is appropriate for the offender to be released on parole.

The nature and purpose of the minimum term was considered in Power v R (1974) 131 CLR 623 , and re-stated in Deakin v R (1984) 58 ALJR 367 . The relevant passage from Power which was cited with approval in Lowe v R (1984) 58 ALJR 414 , 154 CLR 606 , is as follows [at CLR page 620]:

The intention of the legislature in providing for the fixing of minimum terms is to provide for mitigation of the punishment of the prisoner in favour of his rehabilitation through conditional freedom, when appropriate, once the prisoner has served the minimum term that a judge determines justice requires that he must serve having regard to all the circumstances of his offence.

Mr Richter, on your behalf, referred me to a number of cases in which minimum terms have been fixed [ Wardrope (1987) 29 A Crim R 198; Iddon and Crocker (1987) 32 A Crim R 315; Dumas [1988] VR 65; Gaulke , Supreme Court of Victoria, 27 April 1988, unreported; Minogue , Supreme Court of Victoria, 24 August 1988, unreported] . I find it difficult to gain much assistance from such comparisons because sentencing considerations in each case are different, particularly where the imposition of the minimum term is concerned. Mr Dickson did not contend that a minimum term should not be fixed.

In my view, the fixing of a minimum term in this case is appropriate because of your age and your prospects of rehabilitation, as well as the other mitigatory facts I have already mentioned which justify some amelioration of your sentence, not only in your interest, but in the interest of this community.

Dr Bartholomew was confident that, having regard to the crimes which you have committed, it is most unlikely that a decision to release you would be made if, after a very thorough investigation, there was any doubt about your presenting a danger to the community.

In fixing the minimum term, it is necessary to ensure that it does not destroy the punitive effect of the head sentences. On the other hand, in a case such as this an unduly high minimum term would defeat the main purpose for which it is fixed, namely your rehabilitation and possible release at a time when you would still be able to adjust to life in the community.

In all the circumstances, I consider that the appropriate minimum term before which you will not be eligible for parole is 27 years.

Cases Considered:

R v Anderson [1981] VR 155

Deakin v R (1984) 58 ALJR 367; 54 ALR 765

R v Dumas [1988] VR 65

Lowe v R (1984) 58 ALJR 414; 54 ALR 193; 154 CLR 606

Power v R (1974) 131 CLR 623

Veen v R (No 2) (1988) 62 ALJR 224; 77 ALR 385; 164 CLR 465


A transcript of the sentencing of Julian Knight in the Supreme Court [Case No: T557/1988] consisting of 13 pages and costing $33.80, is available from; Transcript Services Victorian Government Reporting Service

Level 1

167 Queen Street


Tel: (03) 9603 2401

Fax: (03) 9670 4139



Web Analytics