THE TWO islanders serving life sentences for murdering Lerwick woman Tracy Walker in July 2019 have had their minimum jail terms reduced following an appeal.
Following a hearing at the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh earlier this month, the minimum time Ross MacDougall, 33, was told to serve behind bars has been reduced from 23 to 20 years, while the minimum term for 29-year-old Dawn Smith was reduced from 20 to 17 years and two months.
The new sentences are the terms the pair must serve before becoming eligible for parole.
A application by MacDougall and Smith’s advocates requesting that the convictions should be quashed because their clients were victims of a miscarriage of justice were rejected in the appeal court’s written judgement.
Following a jury trial at the High Court in Edinburgh last year MacDougall and Smith were found guilty of killing 40-year-old Tracy Walker because they needed money to buy drugs and knew she had £100 on her.
However, their lawyers had argued that the minimum jail terms imposed on the pair were too severe.
They told judges Lady Dorrian, Lord Pentland and Lord Turnbull that sentences given to people convicted for similar crimes were not as lengthy as the ones given to their clients.
They said that the punishment parts should be reduced to bring them into line for people who have been convicted of similar offences.
In the written judgement issued at the court on Tuesday, the judges agreed with defence submissions on sentencing.
Lady Dorrian wrote: “The reason for the different lengths of the sentences lay in the first appellant’s criminal record. We agree with senior counsel for the first appellant that only limited assistance can be gained from comparison with other cases but that those cases referred to by the trial judge were both of a more serious or sinister nature than the present one.
“We accept this was a case of extreme violence, and that it was aggravated by the purpose of robbery.
“Nevertheless we are persuaded that a sentence of more than 20 years for the first appellant was not merited, even having regard to his record.
“He has a conviction for assault to severe injury and danger of life by the use of a knife, for which a 16 month sentence was imposed, and another for possession of a knife which attracted 14 months.
“Although she too has prior convictions, those were not of the violent nature of those of the first appellant (although she does have convictions for possession of weapons).
“She has served a sentence of six months imprisonment for theft and bail charges.
“We will therefore quash the sentences and impose a sentence of life imprisonment with a punishment part of 20 years for the first appellant and a sentence of life imprisonment with a punishment part of 18 years for the second appellant.
“In the latter case the period will be reduced to 17 years and 2 months to reflect the period on remand.”
At a hearing held earlier this month, MacDougall’s advocate Brian McConnachie also urged the judges to quash his client’s conviction.
He said MacDougall had been the victim of a miscarriage of justice because High Court judge Lord Uist ignored evidence which could show that Smith alone killed Tracy Walker.
The QC said that by not talking about this possibility in his closing directions, Lord Uist deprived jurors of the ability to consider the possibility that it was Smith and not MacDougall who killed Tracy Walker.
Advocate Paul Nelson for Dawn Smith said that Lord Uist failed to address the possibility that another person could have handed MacDougall the knife used in the attack against Tracy Walker.
However, the appeal judges rejected the submissions made about why the two accused should have their convictions quashed.
Lady Dorrian wrote: “We are unable to reach the conclusion that the misdirection in this case amounted to a miscarriage of justice.
“In these circumstances the appeal against conviction for the first appellant must fail.
“The appeal against conviction for the second appellant must be refused.”
Court report by Edinburgh Courts Press Services
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