‘Killer without a conviction’: Battle to change how we judge murderers

Wendy Robinson's brother fatally shot their parents.

Wendy Robinson's brother fatally shot their parents. Photos: Wendy Robinson

Imagine dating someone who, unbeknown to you, had served time for killing their parents, but nothing showed up on a criminal record check.

Take NSW man Scott Settree.

He was sentenced to 18 months in jail for possessing a firearm.

But he received no criminal conviction for shooting his mum and dad dead.

Now, his sister, Wendy Robinson, is one step closer in her fight to make sure Australians know when someone like her brother has killed.

The retail worker has been informed by NSW’s Minister for Mental Health Bronwyn Taylor that NSW Parliament will in September debate the wording of verdicts handed down to mentally-ill offenders.

Mrs Robinson’s parents Margaret and Ian Settree were married for 53 years.

Mrs Robinson, 58, was disappointed when a Supreme Court found Settree “not guilty by reason of mental illness”, because of what it meant.

The court accepted he committed the crime but because of his mental illness, he was not found legally responsible for his actions, and therefore no conviction was recorded against his name.

He can, therefore, also seek permission to legally change his name.

No one will ever have any idea who they are and what they did,’’ Mrs Robinson said.

As she was explaining her plight, Mrs Robinson’s eyes became fixated on a photo of her mum, dad, and three children.

“Sometimes I’ll look at that photo and I’ll just come to tears.”

Settree is detained in the forensic hospital on the Long Bay jail site.

But Mrs Robinson is not happy with the suggested alternative.

“They want to change it to act proven, but not criminally responsible,” she said.

“If you put the words ‘but not criminally responsible’, how are we ever going to win our battle to have a criminal record attached to the names?”

Mrs Robinson wants the verdict to read “guilty by reason of mental illness” instead of “not guilty by reason of mental illness”.

“Please don’t think I’m cold and heartless,” she said.

To understand why she is fighting so hard to have the law changed is to first understand the backstory leading up to December 3, 2014, when Settree killed their parents, Ian and Margaret.

Ian and Margaret died at the age of 71 and 69, respectively.

How a son reached the stage where he had no hesitation pulling the trigger on the two people who not only raised him but welcomed him home after his divorce, represents yet another failure of Australia’s mental health support system.

“My brother wasn’t diagnosed with anything until he went to prison,” Mrs Robinson said.

At NSW’s Long Bay Jail, the in-house psychiatrist determined Settree had schizophrenia.

Mrs Robinson said her brother had already seen so many counsellors that it took her about 10 or 11 months after the tragedy to find someone to speak to who hadn’t already spoken with her brother.

Settree’s diagnosis was a long time coming – and there were public signs he was not well.

Mrs Robinson said in 2009 – five years before Settree fatally shot their parents – he posted to Facebook “I’m plotting to kill my mother and I want to get away with it”.

“I jumped on and saw it and I rang and told mum. And mum said, ‘Oh, don’t be silly. That’s nonsense, he’d never hurt me.”

Margaret was physically abused by her son, according to Mrs Robinson.

After her parents died, she went through her mum’s filing cabinet and found a printout copy of the Facebook post.

But that wasn’t all.

“He’d write to mum and dad really nasty stuff,” she said.

“Mum saved so many nasty notes from my brother. I’d find them tucked under mum’s clothing, in drawers, on shelves.”

In an affidavit to the court, Mrs Robinson wrote: “I saw my mother with bruises on more than one occasion, and with two black eyes on one occasion, along with bruises to the side of her face, arms, hip and leg after (Settree) beat her for some reason she could not explain to me.”

Mrs Robinson wasn’t immune to the abuse.

“He (Settree) came at me one night, but my son stood between us,” she explained.

After Settree’s trial, Mrs Robinson went to the NSW Office of Public Prosecutions and watched his police interview.

Ian and Margaret’s Cobar home taped off by police after the double murder.

“He (Settree) was so satisfied with what he did and so pleased with himself, it just made me sick,” Mrs Robinson said.

However, Settree wasn’t always this way.

“We used to do a lot of waterskiing, horse riding. Mum and dad took us on the most fantastic holidays … We had a really good family dynamic” until Settree started taking illicit drugs at age 14, Mrs Robinson said.

“Many times over the years, he used to threaten to mum and dad that he was going to take his life so that was a worry.”

‘Awarded for killing my parents’

It was a Wednesday. Mrs Robinson had read a few pages of a book before drifting off to sleep. Her doorbell rang about 10pm.

“I remember feeling like I was in a dream and it rang again. So I jumped up and looked out my window and I saw the police vehicle out the front.

“I literally ran to the front door and swung the door open. I said ‘Please don’t tell me it’s my children’.

“She said, no, it’s Margaret and Ian and I straight away said ‘What’s Scott done?'”

That’s when she learned Settree had killed them.

“I think I was yelling “not mum and dad, not mum and dad, please not mum and dad’.”

Ian and Margaret loved Christmas. Every year, they dressed up in fun hats and shirts.

Margaret was gifted an expensive, special bottle of wine and Settree had drunk it.

“Mum was upset about it, so dad asked him to replace it and it just escalated from there.

“Mum said ‘I’ve had enough, that’s it, go and pack your bags. I want you out. We’re sick of this.’ And that’s when he (Settree) went and got the gun.”

Because he was found “not guilty by reason of mental illness”, Settree was entitled to half of everything they had.

“I filed a case under Section 11 of the forfeiture rule to have him forfeit his rights to mum and dad’s estates but he fought me for 18 months.

“In the end, the judge ruled that I won. However, he awarded my brother $100,000 for his wellbeing and made me pay all legal costs from both sides,” Mrs Robinson said.

Excluding her own legal and court costs, that totalled to $250,000.

“My brother was awarded a quarter of a million dollars for killing my parents. That’s how I look at it,” she said.

“If I don’t speak up, laws will never change.”

You can hear more from Mrs Robinson on SBS Insight, Tuesday at 8.30pm

Topics: Murder
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