Steven Schubert, ABC News, 20 December, 2018
A man who was sentenced to 20 years in jail for murder, which a judge found he did not commit, has had eight years reduced from his sentence.
Zak Grieve received the sentence for his role in the murder of Ray Niceforo in the outback town of Katherine, 320 kilometres south of Darwin, in 2011.
But NT Administrator Vicki O'Halloran, who has the powers of a state governor, has now changed Grieve's sentence to 12 years, meaning he will be eligible for release in 2023.
"I refer to your correspondence dated 20 July 2018 and attached Petition for the Exercise of the Prerogative of Mercy on behalf of Mr Zak Grieve," Ms O'Halloran said in a letter to Grieve's lawyer, Rebecca Tisdale.
"I have acted on the advice of the Executive Council to exercise the Prerogative of Mercy in favour of Mr Zak Grieve by reducing the non-parole period of his sentence for murder from 20 years to 12 years' imprisonment."
Grieve maintained he was not there when two of his friends murdered Niceforo, as he got cold feet.
The judge at his trial ultimately accepted his versions of events, but was forced to sentence Grieve to life in prison with a 20-year non-parole period due to the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing laws.
Justice Mildren recommended in his sentencing that the NT Administrator consider releasing Grieve after 12 years — the sentence he would have given the then-19-year-old if he had the power to do so.
The unusual case drew national attention to the Northern Territory's mandatory sentencing laws, which forced Justice Mildren to give the sentence.
The sentence stood in contrast to the life with 18 years non-parole given to Grieve's co-accused Chris Malyschko, who admitted to striking Niceforo's head with a spanner.
Malyschko's mother Bronwyn Buttery, who was Niceforo's former fiancé, was tried for murder, but a jury found her guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Buttery was sentenced to eight years in jail with a four-year non-parole period, after which she was released.
Buttery paid $15,000 to her son for the murder, in what was the first known contract killing in the Northern Territory.
Another man who was caught on covert police recordings discussing his role of holding the blood money, disposing of the murder weapons and whose DNA was found on physical evidence, was never charged by NT Police.
The decision to reduce Grieve's sentence was an implicit indictment of the Territory's mandatory sentencing laws, said Grieve's lawyer Ms Tisdale.
She said the NT's mandatory sentencing laws were incompatible with human rights. "The decision by the Administrator to remit part of Zak's sentence is an implicit acknowledgement that the mandatory sentencing laws lead to unjust results," Ms Tisdale said. She said her hope remained that despite the reprieve, Grieve would be released from prison immediately.
"We had asked in the petition for Zac to be released immediately and we think we're still right in our views that Zac has done enough time for the crime that he committed," she said. Marty Aust, from the Criminal Lawyers Association of the NT (CLANT), said "mandatory sentencing is the scourge of the NT criminal jurisdiction".
"CLANT is hopeful that the successful petition by Mr Grieve, and the associated community support and interest, can be the catalyst for an end to all forms of mandatory sentencing in the Northern Territory," Mr Aust said.
"It is not only rare in the extreme to see a successful petition for mercy, but unfortunately rarer still to see such support for a young Aboriginal man, let down by an inequitable justice system.
"CLANT now lays down the challenge to the NT Labor Government, the time for reform is now — end mandatory sentencing forever.
"Without change, there will never be true justice for any of us."