The death of Darcey Freeman
Every few years or so a murder case grips the public mind and refuses to let go. So it is with the case of Darcey Freeman, the four-year-old girl thrown to her death from the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne in the midst of a busy rush hour. Today, more than two years after she was murdered, her father, Arthur Freeman, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
On the day of the killing in January 2009, Freeman had telephoned his former wife, Peta Barnes, and told her to say good-bye to her children because she would never see them again. Moments later, he parked his four-wheel-drive car in the emergency lane of Melbourne's highest bridge, pulled Darcey from the car, carried her in his arms and then hurled her over the edge. He did so not only in full view of dozens of commuters stuck in rush-hour traffic, but also in front of his two sons, then aged six and two. One eyewitness who experienced the horror of seeing Darcey plunge 58 metres to her death described how Freeman had returned to his car as if he had just posted a letter. As Freeman drove away, his then six-year-old son reportedly said: "Darcey can't swim."
The defence claimed that the 37-year-old was mentally impaired - "mad not bad" in the words of his barrister - but prosecutors argued that he acted out of revenge. The previous day he had had his access to his three children reduced, and his father said the news had put him in a trance-like state. After killing Darcey, he drove to the courts complex in central Melbourne, and handed his then two-year-old son to security staff. Then he broke down.
In delivering the life sentence, Judge Justice Paul Coghlan said that Freeman had tried to hurt his former wife as profoundly as possible, and had chosen a remarkably public place to have the most dramatic impact. What particularly rankled the judge was that Freeman had never said sorry for his actions, and that others had somehow felt culpable for his actions. Then he put four-year-old Darcey front and centre. "What Darcey's last thoughts might have been does not bear thinking about," he said, "and her death must have been a painful and protracted one." During my time here, I cannot recall a more awful murder.
DEFENCE SCANDAL: The comments section on the Defence Academy Skype sex scandal closed quickly - I don't have anything to do with moderating the comments or shutting the commentary, by the way - but today, Defence Minister Stephen Smith announced a probe into the culture of the military, and in particular its treatment of women. It will be carried out by the country's Sex Discrimination Commissioner, and will be a "far-reaching cultural appraisal", according to the defence minister. An over-reaction or an investigation that is long overdue?