Intentional Amputation – A Rare Case of Murder

Man Charged with Murder After Amputating Another Man’s Leg

On Saturday 19 February 2022 it is alleged by the police that two men, a 36 and a 66 year old, attended Fitzgerald Park in Innisfail in north Queensland. They drove there by vehicle and arrived shortly before 4.00am and both sat under a tree. The police claim that, approximately 20 minutes later, the younger man cut off the older man’s leg with a circular saw, as part of an ‘arrangement’ between them. The younger man, John Yalu, then helped the victim return to the car and then left on foot. The victim was then discovered by other people who were passing by later that morning and by that stage had already died – presumably as a result of blood loss. As a result of this bizarre incident, Yalu has been charged with murder.

The full facts of this incident are not yet known but many news reports claim that the victim had paid Yalu several thousand dollars to amputate his leg. I’ve since had many people ask me how, in circumstances where it appears that the victim was not only a willing participant, but had even paid, to have his leg amputated, Yalu could be charged with murder.

Definition of ‘Murder’ Under Queensland Law

Historically, and commonly, it was believed that the critical element that distinguished the offence of murder from the lesser offence of manslaughter was the element of intent – or an intention to kill. A common and clear example of the difference could often be seen in cases involving drunken street fights. If person A punched person B, causing B to fall onto the ground and strike their head, ultimately leading to their death due to bleeding on the brain or some other catastrophic injury. In such a situation, A would be charged with murder but the charge would almost always be downgraded to the lesser charge of manslaughter because it could not be proven that A, in punching B, intended to kill B. Intention is an extremely difficult thing to prove.

‘Murder’ redefined in 2019

However, a very significant and controversial change was made by the State Parliament on 1 May 2019. The definition of murder, as specified under the law, is as follows:

A person who unlawfully kills another under any of the following circumstances:
(a) if the offender intends to cause the death of the person killed or that of some other person or if the offender intends to do to the person killed or to some other person some grievous bodily harm;
(aa) if death is caused by an act done, or omission made, with reckless indifference to human life;
(b) if death is caused by means of an act done in the prosecution of an unlawful purpose, which act is of such a nature as to be likely to endanger human life;
(c) if the offender intends to do grievous bodily harm to some person for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a crime which is such that the offender may be arrested without warrant, or for the purpose of facilitating the flight of an offender who has committed or attempted to commit any such crime;
(d) if death is caused by administering any stupefying or overpowering thing for either of the purposes mentioned in paragraph (c);
(e) if death is caused by wilfully stopping the breath of any person for either of such purposes;

Section (aa) above, which is the new provision included in 2019, means that a charge of murder can be satisfied in situations where there was no intention to kill – but rather that an act was made with ‘reckless indifference’ to human life.

Why was the change made?

In explaining the need for the change, the Explanatory Notes said:

“Many unlawful child killings in Queensland result in an offender being convicted of manslaughter rather than murder for a range of reasons, including difficulty in establishing intent even where the death is due to physical abuse. Including recklessness as an element of murder in section 302 of the Criminal Code will capture a wider range of offending as murder in Queensland. Reckless murder exists in a number of other Australian jurisdictions reflecting that intention and foresight of probable consequences are morally equivalent – that is a person who foresees the probability of death is just as blameworthy as the person who intends to kill. This change, depending on the circumstances of the particular case, will apply across the board to not just include recklessness in relation to the deaths of children but will be applicable to any person, including other categories of vulnerable persons such as the disabled and the elderly.”

How will that apply in Yalu’s case?

It appears as though the prosecution argument will be that Yalu, by amputating the leg of the victim in circumstances where he did not have immediate access to first aid or care, and left him in such a state that he was not able to obtain this care for himself, demonstrated ‘reckless indifference to human life’. It would, of course, be a different matter if say for example the arrangement involved the severance of a finger – the difference being that the loss of a finger would not likely result in such massive blood loss to lead to a threat to life.

As I have mentioned above, I do not know the full facts of this matter and am piecing together what has been reported by other news outlets. The information provided above is purely hypothetical and only in response to those who have asked me how these facts could lead to a charge of murder.

For more questions about murder charges, feel free to reach out to us.

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