Three months after former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Corporal Rian Ross Toyer, was sentenced to 22 months imprisonment for the manslaughter of 25-year-old Filipina trans woman Mhelody Bruno, an ABC investigation has found that important evidence in the case never made it to court.
Justice Gordon Lerve had initially sentenced Toyer to an intensive correction order and 500 hours of community service, but subsequently admitted that it had erred in its order that had let Toyer avoid jail time for the crime. The judge had at the sentencing said he regretted not being able to impose an intensive corrective order in the case.
A joint Background Briefing and ABC Regional investigation found that information that was not seen by the court included ambulance logs, a first-responder’s statement about the condition that they found Bruno in, medical records, an autopsy report and details of a video call with one of Bruno’s friends.
Warning: There are details discussed in this story that may be distressing and confronting to some readers.
A Tragic Death
Bruno had arrived in Australia in August 2019 on a holiday to see her long distance boyfriend in the regional city of Wagga Wagga. The holiday was reportedly cut short due to incompatibility. Bruno then met Toyer on Grindr and was found dead within weeks.
The next morning, Toyer choked Bruno while they had sex. Toyer, in his statement to the police claimed that the couple had commonly indulged in erotic asphyxia. He admitted that Bruno had never asked for her to be choked, though he said she had not asked him to stop.
Judge Lerve in his order 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 had pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges for choking Bruno to death, which meant that evidence that would have been crucial and would have been tested in a trial, was never seen by the court.
Evidence Not Seen By Court Raises Questions
According to the ABC investigation, “sexually explicit and derogatory messages” were sent from Bruno’s phone hours before she was strangled. The string of explicit, abusive messages were out-of-character, according to people who knew Bruno and spoke to ABC. One message had profanity in it, another asked for her friends from the Philippines to send images of their genitals and the third stated that Bruno was ‘dirty’ and that she had HIV.
The evidence included accounts of a video call between Bruno’s phone and those of her friend Jay and her brother Aaron (name changed). Aaron reportedly told the police that a man (who they found out later was Toyer) had told him in the video call: “I have destroyed her… I am going to give her HIV and I am going to destroy her arse again”. Jay and her mother told ABC that Bruno appeared to be lying unresponsive in bed during the video call and the man had cut the call after saying he was going to rape Bruno again.
The court had recorded that Bruno was killed in the middle of a sex act and that Toyer had performed CPR and then called emergency services.
The ABC investigation however noted that as per the first responder’s statement, Bruno was found fully clothed, and there was no evidence of CPR being commenced before the arrival of the paramedics. The paramedics’ report as well as medical notes at the hospital recorded a loose tooth and some bruising. However, the autopsy report did not mention the bruising or the loose tooth.
Wagga Wagga Police officer in charge at the time, Superintendent Bob Noble, stressed to the ABC that they ran a thorough investigation into the case surrounding Bruno’s death.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions NSW said the prosecution must establish evidence that would lead to a higher sentence “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
“Suspicion about an issue is not sufficient,” they said. The ABC report does acknowledge that they do not know if the new information that has come to light, would have made difference in the sentencing. ABC said Toyer had declined to speak to them.
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