A father who drunkenly stabbed his wife and mother-in-law to death in far north Queensland has been sentenced to life in jail for their murders, with a non-parole period set for 30 years.
- The trial hears Balwinder Singh Ghuman had been drinking and had lost control after a domestic dispute
- Ghuman says he blacked out during the attack and his next memory was coming to the police station with blood on his hands
- Daughter Manraj Ghuman levels blame for her ongoing grief at her “selfish” father who took her mother and grandmother away
Balwinder Singh Ghuman, 46, was found guilty this morning in a Cairns court of two counts of murder.
He was also found guilty of attempting to murder his father-in-law and of unlawfully wounding his daughter.
The attacks happened on March 14, 2016 at Gordonvale, south of Cairns, where three generations had lived in two neighbouring houses.
Ghuman had pleaded not guilty to the murder of his 43-year-old wife Manjinderjit Ghuman and mother-in-law Sukhwinder Johal, the attempted murder of his 75-year-old father-in-law Sarwan Johal, and wounding of his daughter Manraj Singh Ghuman.
The trial heard Ghuman had been drinking and had lost control after a domestic dispute.
Ghuman admitted his actions caused the two deaths, but over a week-long trial in the Supreme Court in Cairns, the defence unsuccessfully argued he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and alcoholism and could not form the requisite intention to kill.
Killer beat his chest, called himself a lion after attack
Across a week of hearings from dozens of witnesses, crown prosecutor Nathan Crane constructed a narrative of a troubled marriage characterised by Ghuman’s heavy drinking.
Speaking through a translator, the defendant told the courtroom he moved to Australia from northern India “for a good life”.
Instead, Ghuman soon entered into an arranged marriage that, by his own reckoning, was “50 per cent either way, happiness and not happy”.
The court heard of an occasion in 2007 when his wife Manjinderjit Ghuman returned home to find him drunkenly cutting up family photos, and of another incident years later when Ghuman threatened her with a knife.
Ms Ghuman told the court that tensions came to a head when her father failed to attend her graduation ceremony, choosing instead to stay home and drink.
He soon stopped work as a taxi driver and, partly at the family’s urging, left for an extended holiday in India, returning just weeks before the attack.
On the afternoon of March 14, the two women told Ghuman they wanted him to leave the family, which then led to a dispute and eventually to Ghuman stabbing his wife 23 times — including in the neck, head and chest.
He then fatally stabbed his mother-in-law in the head and neck, stabbed his father-in-law, and wounded his daughter during the family’s attempts to help his dying wife.
The court heard Ghuman then pursued bystanding family members into the street, shouting in Punjabi that he would kill them and beating his chest while calling himself a lion.
Gay paranoia a ‘psychiatric red herring’
When called to the stand by defence barrister Anthony Glynn, Ghuman testified symptoms of psychosis he had experienced in 2005 had resurfaced and had worsened a decade later.
Ghuman told the court he came to firmly hold beliefs that “gay people” were entering his taxi and pursuing him, that people around him were discussing private details of his sex life, and that his brother-in-law had installed a video camera in his bedroom with the intent of distributing sex tapes.
“To get away from that worry, I drank,” Ghuman told the court.
He said he drank most of a bottle of vodka throughout the day of March 14, and had blacked out during the attack.
Ghuman said his next memory was coming to the police station with blood on his hands.
Mr Glynn said a key issue for the jury to consider was whether the defendant had formed an intention to kill his family, and was therefore criminally responsible, or if the defences of insanity or diminished responsibility had applied.
But the prosecution’s expert psychiatric witness Dr Andrew Aboud told the court the attack was motivated by the dispute and his significant intoxication, which a toxicology report placed as between 3.5 and 5.5 times the legal driving limit.
Dr Aboud told the trial the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia was a “psychiatric red herring”.
‘Savage killing of loved ones’
In summing up, Justice James Henry told the court it was “little wonder [the jury] rejected the defences in that context”.
“The sad reality of human affairs is that the savage killing of loved ones or family members can be caused in an emotional and drunken response to rejection,” he said.
“The consequences of your actions have been catastrophic — catastrophic for you, but more importantly, catastrophic for your family.
“You have inflicted unimaginable grief on them. Your actions will have a lifelong impact on all of them.”
In a emotional victim impact statement read to the court, his 20-year-old daughter Manraj said she wished it was her that died instead of her mother and grandmother, and levelled blame for her ongoing grief at the “selfish man” who took those people away.
“My mum and grandmother will not see me graduate from university next year,” she said.
“My mum and grandmother will not be there on my wedding day.”
Justice Henry sentenced Ghuman to life in jail for the two murders, 15 years for the attempted murder, and two years for the unlawful wounding, with a non-parole period of 30 years.