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Dante Wyndham ARTHURS

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: June 26, 2006
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: August 8, 1984
Victim profile: Sofia Rodriguez Urrutia-Shu, 8
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Canning Vale, Western Australia, Australia
Status: Pleaded guilty on November 17, 2007. Sentenced to life imprisonment with a non parole period of 13 years
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Dante Wyndham Arthurs (born 8 August 1984) from Perth, Western Australia, was 21 years old when he was charged on the 27th of June 2006, with the Wilful Murder, Sexual Penetration and Unlawful Detention of 8 year old school girl Sofia Rodriguez Urrutia-Shu.

On the 17th of November 2007, Arthurs pleaded guilty to the charges of murder and unlawful detention and convicted in the Supreme Court of Western Australia, sentenced to life imprisonment with a non parole period of 13 years. He is currently in detention at the maximum security Casuarina Prison in Western Australia and will not be eligible for release until 2019.

Many areas of the Western Australian and Australian community debated the re-introduction of the death penalty due to the great emotion evoked by Sofia's murder. The last person hanged in Western Australia was Eric Edgar Cooke in 1964 and the death penalty was repealed in that state in 1984.

History

At 4:00pm on the 26th of June 2006, Sofia Rodriguez Urrutia-Shu was at the Livingston Shopping Centre in Canning Vale, Western Australia with her uncle, sister and brother. Whilst her family waited in the main area of the shopping centre, Sofia went down a central corridor to go to the toilet. Unknown to Sofia, or her family, Arthurs, an employee at the shopping centre, observed Sofia walking down the corridor and followed her. After Sofia exited the female toilets, Arthurs grabbed her from behind and dragged her into the near by disabled toilet cubicle and locked the door.

Sofia's family, having waited only a few moments, became concerned and Sofia's 14 year old brother was sent to look for her. He called for her at the door of the female toilet but not getting a response walked back along the corridor. He heard movement coming from the disabled cubicle and knocked on the locked door calling Sofia's name. There was no response. Sofia's brother, uncle and younger sister then began a search of the centre.

A few minutes later, her brother again returned to the disabled toilet cubicle and opened the now unlocked door. It was at this time, only 10 minutes after Sofia left her family that her brother found Sofia's naked and lifeless body lying on the cubicle floor. Sofia was dead. An search of the shopping centre failed to locate an offender, to which the entire centre was closed and declared a crime scene.

It was alleged by prosecutors that the assault on Sofia only lasted a few minutes, but the ferocity of the attack on the 8 year old was described as "the worst of its type". At a young age, Arthurs was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and as such, he offered little explanation for his actions in the toilet cubicle and failed to understand and accept responsibility for what had occurred.

Arguments were made against the severity of his Asperger Syndrome by prosecutors, due to the evidence gathered by pathologists as to the cause of death and severity of Sofia's injuries, compared to the explanation given by Arthurs as to how those injuries and her death had occurred.

In his attempts to restrain Sofia after she had been dragged into the toilet cubicle, her limbs were contorted so severely that both her legs were broken and her left arm was dislocated as Arthurs removed her clothing. Sofia was a small, petite girl for her age and was no match for the 180 cm and 90 kg Arthurs. Sofia's throat was also severely compressed and her larynx was crushed as Arthurs attempted to muffle her cries. The cause of death was given to be a direct result of strangulation.

In his interview with police, Arthurs admitted to digitally penetrating Sofia, however it could not be determined whether this had occurred prior to or after Sofia's death. During the attack, which was estimated to have lasted between only 3 to 5 minutes, Sofia's brother knocked on the door of the cubicle having heard movement coming from inside whilst searching for his sister. Though Arthurs made admissions to hearing the knock on the door and a name being called, he (nor Police) could identify whether Sofia was still alive at that time. Sofia was left naked and dead or dying on the floor as Arthurs made his escape.

Initial investigations at the shopping centre identified a few possible suspects. One in particular was 21 year old Dante Wyndham Arthurs, who was employed as a fruit and vegetable packer at the shopping centre. Arthurs was known to local detectives as a result of a sexual assault on a 8 year old girl in the same area 3 years earlier.

Police remained at the crime scene well into the early morning and at 5:00am the day after Sofia's body was discovered, they attended the home of Arthurs who lived with his parents only a few hundred metres from the shopping centre. After a search of his home, Arthurs was arrested and later charged with Wilful Murder, 2 counts of Sexual Penetration of a Child and Deprevation of Liberty.

Legal Controversy

Once the news of Sofia's murder spread and information about her alleged killer was revealed, media organisations locally, nationally and internationally took great interest. The crime was described in many news reports as the most horrific murder in Western Australia since the David and Catherine Birnie murders in the 1980s. Western Australia Police were required to quash strong rumours that Arthurs was one of the child murderers convicted for the Murder of James Bulger in the United Kingdom in 1993.

It was alleged that Arthurs was in fact Robert Thompson, who at the age of 10 years old was convicted of Bulger's murder, given a new identity and then transported to Australia. Information was revealed publicly by Western Australia and Australian Federal Police that Arthurs was not Thompson and the rumour gathered no more momentum. On 29 June 2006, the British High Commission in Canberra issued a media release stating "There is no connection between the man arrested in Western Australia and the individuals involved in the James Bulger case."

Further controversy arose when information was revealed in the local media that Arthurs had been investigated for a sexual assault 3 years earlier in 2003, against another 8 year old girl. It was outlined in media reports and later confirmed by Western Australia Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan and the Department of Public Prosecutions, that Arthurs was in fact arrested for the assault, however charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence and incorrect police interviewing techniques. At the time of Sofia's murder in 2006, the 2003 assault was re-opened to identify any possible links.

It was then identified that the shorts worn by Arthurs in the 2003 assault had traces of the victim's blood on them that wasn't noticed during the 2003 investigation. Western Australia Police received public condemnation for failing to have the shorts forensically examined, which could have secured the conviction of Arthurs for the 2003 assault and therefore could have avoided Sofia's murder. It was also confirmed that after the 2003 assault, the Department of Public Prosecutions refused to consider charges against Arthurs because they considered that the police had been too robust in interviewing him and that a conviction was unlikely to be obtained. Though Sofia's family were frustrated by this discovery, they publicly supported the police and understood that a successful conviction against Arthurs (if in fact it did occur) in 2003, would not have guaranteed their daughter would still be alive today.

Legal Proceedings

Sofia's family were devastated by their daughters' horrific murder and could not face the prospect of the court process. They were unable to attend any of the proceedings and so were represented by 2 members of their Mater Christi Catholic Primary School Parish, a small school that Sofia attended in the Western Australian suburb of Yangebup. Head Priest at the Parish, Father Bryan Rosling took up the families struggle to deal with the massive media attention the murder had raised and Paul Litherland, a Western Australian Police officer and a parent of one of Sofia's schoolmates represented the family and set up fund raising events.

On the 7th of March 2007, after extensive psychological testing and discussions between prosecutors and Arthurs defence counsel, Arthurs was required to enter a plea to the charges of Wilful Murder, 2 counts of Sexual Penetration of a Child and Unlawful Detention. He pleaded not guilty to all 4 charges and was remanded in custody. On 31 August 2007, Justice Peter Blaxell ruled that the bulk of the admissions made by Arthurs in a video recorded interview with police on the morning after the offence, would be inadmissible at his trial on ground of "persistent importunity, or sustained or undue insistence or pressure".

On 31 July 2007, Chief Justice Wayne Martin ruled that Arthurs receive a bench trial. Martin said that the "extensive, continuous and in some respects extraordinary" pre-trial media coverage, the circumstances of the offence and the fact that a judge would provide reasons for his or her decision supported a trial by judge alone. Hence it was agreed that Arthurs would be heard by a Judge alone and not a jury. In the mean time, discussions continued with the Department of Public Prosecutions and Arthurs lawyers regarding his plea status. In August 2007, Arthurs and prosecutors entered into an agreement that would see Arthurs plead guilty to the lesser charge of Murder, instead of the current charge of Wilful Murder.

On 17 September 2007, Arthurs pleaded guilty in the Supreme Court to charges of Murder and Unlawful Detention. The two counts of Sexual Penetration of a Child under the age of 10 were withdrawn because forensic analysis could not conclude if Sofia had been sexually assaulted before or after she died.

On 7 November 2007, Arthurs was sentenced to life in prison with a non-parole period of 13 years. He was also sentenced to two years for depriving Sofia of her liberty. Describing Arthurs' crimes as 'so evil they shock the public conscience,' Justice John McKechnie also advised Arthurs of the possibility that he may never be released as the release of offenders sentenced to life imprisonment must be signed off by the Western Australian Attorney-General.

New Western Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter has since revoked Arthurs' non-parole period, making him one of three Western Australians to have their papers marked "never to be released".

Other allegations

After Arthurs pleaded guilty it was publicly confirmed that he was under investigation by British police for sexually assaulting another girl in 2001. Arthurs was never charged with this incident because he left Britain for Australia before an identity parade could take place.

Sofia's Legacy

Sofia's Memorial - The Chapel of the Innocents

Sofia's small school community was devastated by her murder and set about to raise funds for a memorial to her at the school, which was the Mater Christi Catholic Primary School in Yangebup, Western Australia. Over a quarter of a million dollars was raised locally at the school for a memorial to Sofia and all Western Australian Children who have had their lives stolen by criminals. The Chapel of the Innocents was constructed in 2008 and remains the resting place of Sofia's ashes.

Changes to Legislation

After Sofia was murdered, Police were restricted in their ability to charge Arthurs with Wilful Murder, because it could not be proved it was his intention to murder Sofia. Wilful Murder, which carried a term of life imprisonment with a non porole period of 15 years (minimum) to 19 years (maximum) at the time, was the highest charge that could be preferred for the taking of a life. Instead, Arthurs had to be charged and convicted with the lesser offence of Murder, which excluded the element of intent. This still carried a penalty of life imprisonment, however the non parole periods were 7 years (minimum) to 14 years (maximum). Realistically, for one of the most horrific crimes in Western Australia for decades, Arthurs could possibly spend only 7 years in jail. This caused a massive public outcry and a demand was made to force a change to the laws for murder in Western Australia.

Through the then Attorney General Jim McGinty, Sofia's family and their many supporters petitioned the Government to have the laws changed to reflect more clearly the seriousness of the crimes committed. As a result, the charges of Wilful Murder and Murder were repealed and a single charge of Murder was created to include more severe penalty options. Though distinction between an intent to murder and non intent were still included, the sentencing considerations were dramatically altered.

The new legislation calls for an ability to impose a "Never to be Released" clause as well as a change in the minimum sentence that can be imposed before release on parole can be considered. For Murder with intent the minimum sentence is 20 years and for Murder without a proved intent (Manslaughter) it is 15 years. Though Arthurs could not be retrospectively convicted under the new legislation, the legacy of Sofia's murder would ensure no-one again in Western Australia would receive such a potentially lenient sentence as a result of such a horrific crime.

Sex Offender Register

In addition to the changes to murder legislation, Sofia's family have worked tirelessly over the years since her murder to have the Western Australian Government introduce a Public Sex Offender Register. This would see the names and suburbs (not address) of convicted sex offenders being made available to the public. Though public support was very strong for such a register, the government stalled on the legislation due to the concerns such legislation could cause to the safety of known sex offenders. Police in particular showed concerns for the fear of vigilante attacks against sex offenders who have been released after serving their time in jail. In November 2011 the government of Western Australia passed legislation in the lower house for a register. It is envisioned that serious and repeat offenders will have their names and suburbs published on a public website. Furthermore, parents will be able to check if people who have regular contact with their children are on the sex offenders register. This will be by way of providing the persons details to police.

 
 

Sofia's killer jailed for life over toilet murder

By Liza Kappelle and Andrea Hayward - News.com.au

November 8, 2007

A PERTH man has been sentenced to life in prison for the "evil" strangling of an eight-year-old girl whom he then sexually abused before leaving her naked body on a toilet floor.

Dante Wyndham Arthurs, 23, must serve at least 13 years before being considered for parole, but it is unlikely he will ever be released.

He had pleaded guilty in the WA Supreme Court to dragging Sofia Rodriguez-Urrutia-Shu into a disabled toilet cubicle at a Canning Vale shopping centre in Perth on June 26, 2006.

He strangled her, stripped her and digitally penetrated her before propping her naked body against the cubicle wall and fleeing.

Evidence led police to his Canning Vale home the next day, where they found a bag in a wardrobe containing latex gloves, handcuffs and rope along with a collection of pictures of young girls and their addresses.

Justice John McKechnie told a trembling Arthurs yesterday there were some crimes "so evil" they shocked the public conscience and the crime against Sofia was one of them.

He sentenced Arthurs to life in prison, with a non-parole period of 13 years.

He had to set a minimum between seven and 14 years.

He also sentenced Arthurs to two years, to be served concurrently, for depriving Sofia of her liberty.

"I find you have a dangerous sexual motivation towards young girls that manifests itself in violent situations with young girls," the judge said.

Arthurs' lawyer Bob Richardson said his client had attacked another eight-year-old girl in Perth in 2003, but police bungling led to the dropping of charges that may have convicted Arthurs possibly preventing the slaying of Sofia.

"If he had have been convicted at that time, these issues, I'm not saying they would have been, but could have been addressed," Mr Richardson said.

The 2003 charges were dropped because police were too aggressive in their questioning and also told the Director of Public Prosecutions there was no forensic evidence to support a prosecution.

But today, the court heard recent forensic testing had now linked Arthurs to the crime for which he has since confessed in return for indemnity from prosecution.

This prompted police today to order an internal review into why Arthurs' shorts were not forensically tested in 2003.

Mr Richardson told the court Arthurs had no clear recollection of what happened in the toilet where he killed Sofia, but could see pictures in his head of himself doing something to her.

Arthurs told his lawyer and medical experts he recalled seeing his hands around a throat and panicked when he noticed she had stopped breathing.

"I tried to shake a response from her, then her arms broke," Arthurs told a psychologist, Mr Richardson told the court.

"I heard a large snapping noise."

Arthurs told them: "He watched himself go across to her to remove her clothing and insert one finger into the vagina.

"He noticed there was blood".

Under WA law, sexual assault charges can only be laid if the victim was alive at the time of the attack.

Prosecutor Sam Vandongen said medical reports suggested Sofia's arms were broken before her death.

Fractures in her legs were caused by severe torsion or twisting not consistent with Arthurs' claim the injuries were caused when he threw her against the toilet.

"Her body was sexually penetrated ... there were significant other injuries ... which place this particular offence in the worst of its type," Mr Vandongen said.

As Arthurs fled the toilet, attempts to catch him and revive Sofia failed.

But forensic evidence led police to Arthurs house the next day where the pictures of other young girls and their names, ages and addresses were found.

Mr Vandongen said these items indicated Arthurs had a sexual interest in young girls.

Forensic psychologist Greg Dear told the court Arthurs had Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism that meant he had little insight into his own thoughts or feelings.

But this did not explain his actions on the day Sofia died.

Justice McKechnie told Arthurs: "The circumstances of the commission of this offence are so grave ... and your future dangers so real I will set a substantial minimum period".

Arthurs can be considered for parole in 13 years, backdated to his arrest on June 27, 2006.

But it is unlikely he will ever be released.

The release of prisoners from life imprisonment must be signed off by WA's attorney-general and the current incumbent, Jim McGinty doubts any attorney-general would consider releasing him.

Outside the court, Father Bryan Rosling read a statement from Sofia's parents Gabriel and Josephine, who stayed away from court today with their remaining three children to avoid the pain of hearing legal quibbles and details of Arthurs' previous offences.

"We cannot bring Sofia back but we believe it is possible to save other Sofias in the future," they said.

"Why wait for another child to be the victim of a homicidal paedophile before making available a public register for sex offenders?"

 

 

 
 
 
 
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