A Wagga Wagga court appears to have erred when it allowed a former RAAF corporal avoid prison time after he was convicted for the manslaughter of trans woman Mhelody Bruno, 25.

Rian Ross Toyer, 33, who had pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges for choking Bruno to death during a sex act, is scheduled to appear before the court to be re-sentenced on Monday, March 29. 

Justice Gordon Lerve  of the Wagga Wagga District Court had sentenced Toyer to a 22-month intensive correction order (ICO), along with 500 hours community service. The sentence had sparked outrage among trans activists. Now, it appears that the sentence was not permissible in law. 

“This matter was mentioned in court on Monday, March 22, after the parties raised with the Judge on Friday, March 19 that an intensive correction order could not be imposed for manslaughter,” said a spokesperson for the New South Wales Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. 

The case is listed on March 29 to correct “the sentencing error”, the spokesperson added. 

Was this fair?

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Transgender rights activists have called out the injustice in the case that allowed Toyer to escape prison term for a serious crime, a decision that now appears to have been incorrect. 

“This is misogyny and this is outrageous. When we talk about equality, we should look at this case very carefully and ask ourselves, was this fair?,” said trans advocate and consultant Katherine Wolfgramme. 

“If a woman had a fight with her boyfriend and he strangled her the next morning, things would not be seen in the same way,” said Wolfgramme.

“This is not equality, this is clearly discrimination and a miscarriage of justice against a human being who just happened to be transgender. My heart goes out to all the other transgender victims of crimes whose perpetrators have gotten away scot-free because the victims are trans.”

“Time and again a transgender women are first victimised, then objectified and eventually dehumanised – and her perpetrator, in this instance, her killer gets away with the crime”. 

“It is time for our allies and friends to stand with us and force the judicial system  to bring  true justice to the very people by law they are meant to protect, to all humans equally regardless of gender,” said Wolfgramme. 

Choked During Sex Act

Mhelody Bruno had arrived in Australia from the Philippines in August 2019. She met Toyer on the gay dating app Grindr and the couple were in a relationship for three weeks before her death. 

On September 20, 2019, Toyer and Bruno had argued before spending the night in the former RAAF corporal’s unit in Wagga Wagga. 

The next morning, Toyer choked Bruno while they had sex. Toyer claimed the couple commonly indulged in this practice, but admitted that Bruno had never asked for her to be choked, though he said she had not asked him to stop. 

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The court concluded that it was not known for how long Bruno was unconscious before Toyer realised it, performed CPR and then called emergency services. Bruno was rushed to the Wagga Wagga base hospital where she was placed into an induced coma. She died the next day. 

ICOs Not Available For Manslaughter

Judge Lerve held that the choking had occurred “in the course of a consensual sexual act”. The judge said he was satisfied that  Bruno “not only consented to the act of choking but actually instigated it … (the first time the couple) had sex”.

“Although there was no discussion as to the boundaries, there was an understanding the deceased would tap the offender’s arm if she was distressed or wanted him to stop the choking.” The judge said tragically, this “did not work on this occasion”.

Toyer received a 25 % discount for his guilty plea, and the judge sentenced him to a 22-month Intensive Correction Order, with 500 hours of community service.

ICOs are granted as an alternative to a prison term, with an order that the sentence can be served in the community.

However, the provisions make it clear that “ICOs are not available for certain offences, including manslaughter, murder, prescribed sexual offences, certain terrorism offences, breaches of serious crime prevention and public safety orders, and offences involving the discharge of a firearm”. Those provisions were not followed in this case. 

If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.

For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

 

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