Melbourne man Borce Ristevski has been sentenced to nine years in jail for the manslaughter of his wife Karen in 2016. He had denied his involvement for almost three years, displaying what a judge described on Thursday as “deceitful conduct” that showed a lack of remorse as he played “the part of the innocent grieving widower”.
Horticulturists working in the Macedon Ranges found Karen Ristevski’s body eight months after she was killed, buried under logs and severely decomposed, making it impossible for forensic examiners to determine a cause of death.
Borce Ristevski lied to detectives and the couple’s daughter, Sarah, about his involvement, telling them his wife, 47, had gone for a walk to clear her mind on 29 June 2016 after they had a disagreement about the dress shop she owned, which was losing money. He told detectives and his family his wife had never returned. He denies murdering her, but unexpectedly pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter in March, which meant the case would not have to go to trial.
Prosecutors said in their summary: “To date, only one person knows why or how Karen was killed – the prisoner.” In sentencing Ristevski, 55, Melbourne supreme court judge Justice Christopher Beale said this lack of disclosure also revealed a lack of remorse, which meant he would not significantly reduce the sentence, despite the guilty plea. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 20 years.
Beale said within a couple of hours of their 21-year-old daughter leaving the house for work on that morning in June, he had killed her and disposed of her body in bushland.
Beale said Ristevski “started on a road of deceit you were to continue on for nearly three years”. This included comforting family members at her funeral “when you secretly knew you were the cause of their grief” and pleading for information about her disappearance at press conferences.
Beale said he did not blame Sarah Ristevski for declining to submit a victim impact statement and instead submitting a glowing character reference to the court, describing her father as “loving, caring, sympathetic, protective and charismatic” and that she hoped to one day have a relationship like that of her parents for herself. However, Sarah and her mother were also extremely close, the court heard. Sarah’s relationship with her mother’s side of the family had been strained since the death, the court heard.
“After your wife she is your principal victim and she and her mother were very close,” Beale said.
“I mean no criticism of Sarah. Anyone with a modicum of compassion must understand her predicament is an agonising one. Regrettably, the sentence I must pass on you will add to her grief.”
In a victim impact statement Karen’s aunt, Marguerite Knight, said: “Being advised that Karen was in such a decomposed state haunts my heart.” Lisa Gray, Karen’s cousin, said in her statement: “If Borce could do anything for Karen and her side of the family, it would be for him to help take away the constant stream of images I see almost daily of Karen struggling for her last breath. The not knowing [how she died] is worse than knowing.”
Beale rejected the defence arguments that the manslaughter was on the lower end range in terms of seriousness and that Ristevski should therefore receive a lower sentence.
“This is a serious case of domestic violence,” Beale said. “This is a particularly bad instance of domestic violence because it involved the taking of a life. Your victim was your wife of 27 years, the longevity of that relationship amplifying that breach of trust. She was killed in her home where she should have felt safe and protected.”
But he said the case was atypical because it seemed to involve an isolated outburst of violence, whereas most domestic violence cases involve a history. Beale said he therefore did not place a heavy weight on the need to sentence with deterrence in mind.
Ristevski stood with his hands clasped in front of him as the sentence was delivered, before being led away by police. He was given a non-parole period of six years, but will be eligible for release in four and half years after taking into account time already served.