Australia

Melbourne mother speaks out over son's 'racist' murder

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Martha Ojulo, whose son Liep Gony was beaten to death in 2007, has broken her silence. Here she speaks to SBS News.

Eleven years have passed since Martha Ojulo’s son was brutally assaulted and left for dead on a Melbourne nature strip.

He was just 19.  

Liep Gony was set upon by two white men armed with metal poles, but a Supreme Court judge said during sentencing the attack wasn’t racially motivated. 

“I couldn't believe she [the judge] could come to that conclusion when I had heard them say in the court that they wanted to kill my son because of his skin colour,” Ms Ojulo told SBS News through a translator. 

“And on that day they were angry and looking for a black man to kill, and they found him.”   

They were looking for a black man to kill, and they found him. 

"Maybe she would have viewed it differently if it was a white person that was murdered."

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Ms Ojulo fled Sudan after some of her family members were tortured. Her family spent years in a refugee camp before coming to Australia. She has remained publicly silent since her son’s death since 2007 but has chosen to talk ahead of a memorial for him outside Victoria's state parliament on Wednesday. 

Ms Ojulo said she hopes to mark his death and send a message about the tragic consequences of racial vilification, but she doesn’t want his case to be used in current debates about so-called ‘African gangs’ in Australia.

Liep Gony
Liep Gony was 19 when he was murdered.
AAP

During a visit to Melbourne in July, then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said: "there is a gang issue here and you are not going to make it go away by pretending it doesn't exist".

But Ms Ojulo told SBS News: “Liep was not killed because he did something wrong. Liep was killed because of his skin colour - because I gave birth to him with black skin.”

In a statement published ahead of the event, she said: “His murder took away all my courage to speak up for him and the man he was growing up to be.” 

“I am now ready to speak.” 

Martha Ojulo
Martha Ojulo.
AAP

On the night of 26 September 2007, Mr Gony was set upon by Clinton Rintoull, 24, and his 21-year-old friend Dylan Sabatino, as he made his way home from a railway station in Noble Park. 

Mr Gony was struck repeatedly to the head, and while on the ground, Rintoull continued to strike him. The pair left him on the roadside, where he was later found bleeding and unconscious by a passer-by. He was rushed to hospital and his life support was switched off the following day.

“Nine months of carrying Liep and 19 years of raising him were all eroded in six minutes,” Ms Ojulo recalled in her statement. 

Nineteen years of raising him were all eroded in six minutes.

“I watched as my son took his last breath. Watched helplessly as his life slipped away. 

“A life full of potential was violently cut because of hatred and violence. The pain is still here with me each passing year, the wonder of what he would have become continues to linger.”

Clinton Rintoull and Dylan Sabatino
Liep Gony's attackers Clinton Rintoull and Dylan Sabatino.
AAP

The attack took place amid heightened racial and political tensions in Australia. Then-immigration minister Kevin Andrews had just claimed the Howard Government was cutting African refugee numbers because some groups were “not settling and adjusting to the Australian way of life”. 

It was revealed in a confidential Immigration Department report that racial harassment of Africans had increased following Mr Andrews’ claims.

The day before Mr Gony's funeral, 17-year-old Sudanese refugee Ajang Gor was viciously assaulted by four men in the Melbourne suburb of Melton. The group called him a "black dog" among other racist insults, smashed a bottle over his head and stole his mobile phone. 

The teenager said at the time he believed the comments made by Mr Andrews had spurred on his attackers.

“I cannot escape the conclusion that the environment contributed to the killing of my son," Ms Ojulo said. 

"Even when he was killed I saw no politician condemn the manner in which he was killed. There was no recognition of the brutality of his death.”

Martha Ojulo
Martha Ojulo at the 'Enough is Enough' protest outside the Channel 7 studio in Melbourne in July.
AAP

Rintoull was sentenced to 20 years in prison for Mr Gony’s murder, while Sabatino was found guilty of manslaughter and given ten years.

In the hours leading up to the attack, Rintoull had sprayed ‘f*** da ni**as’ on the lounge room wall of the house he was renting. 

Ms Ojulo said one of the men was also heard screaming outside the house: “these blacks are turning the town into the Bronx. I am going to take my town back. I’m looking to kill the blacks,” while waving a metal pole.   

But Supreme Court sentencing judge Elizabeth Curtain was not convinced the crime was racially motivated.

She said the pair left home “intent on serious violence towards the people who congregated around the Noble Park railway station, whatever their race.”

Ms Ojulo said the judge's downplaying of the racial element only heightened her grief.

“My son was a loving, generous and kind child. He was taken away from me in a brutal, racially motivated attack that left me devastated,” she said.

Liep Gony funeral
Mourners watch the funeral procession of Liep Gony in 2007.
AAP

Melanie Poole, a policy director at Victoria's Federal of Community Legal Centres, said it was timely to recall the tragedy of Mr Gony's death. 

“What we have seen over the last two years, and particularly this year, is a really acute surge in racial vilification of African Australians in particular," she said.

"What our centres see is the really devastating real-life consequences that harmful media and political rhetoric has on people's lives."

Ms Ojulo said all she has now are the memories of her son. 

He was a good boy and I miss him very much … I miss seeing him among my children," she said.

"Liep was the kind of kid that brought peace to the household and I am still very happy about the man that he was."

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