IN open court Judge Tim Gartelmann described Rodney Johnson’s actions as “staggeringly dangerous” and said it was “astonishing no one was killed”. He described the carnage left by Mr Johnson as “akin to a war zone” and said there was “no sentence other than imprisonment would be appropriate”. Judge Gartelmann spoke of the trauma of Johnson’s victims and the ongoing and lasting impact the incident would have on them, “No sentence could ever be imposed for these offences that would be adequate compensation for the victims”.
The Judge detailed Mr Johnson’s mental health history and described his behaviour as “self-evidently bizarre”.
Mr Johnson’s prior convictions included a low range prescribed concentration of alcohol which was dealt with in the children’s court and resist an officer in 2009. He had two offences of damage or destroy property and three firearm offences in 2015. The firearms charges related to firearms inherited from a grandparent. Mr Johnson was fined for al offences, but had not been previously sentenced to gaol. Judge Gartelmann noted he had a limited traffic record including four fines for exceeding the speed limit, but not in excess of 10 kilometres, one offence of not display P plate and another for not stop on red arrow.
Assessment by Psychiatrists
Please be mindful that there are many people in our community who have periods of being mentally unwell, who may have schitzophrenia, but pose no threat to the community and deserve compassion and respect. While we have detailed what was said in open court about Mr Johnson’s mental health for context, it should not be used to stigmatise mental health issues and others in our community. If the events of October 11 bring up challenging feelings for you, please phone LifeLine on 13 11 14 for crisis support.
Expert forensic psychiatrists Dr Furst and Dr Elliott assessed Mr Johnson and said his behaviours were consistent with chronic paranoid schitzophrenia. At the time of the rampage Mr Johnson was highly likely to have been acutely psychotic and had paranoid delusions that his life was imminently in danger.
Judge Gartelmann read advise from the psychiatrists Dr Furst and Dr Elliott who had assessed Mr Johnson. They disclosed that Mr Johnson was of Aboriginal background, grew up in a household with a mother and Sister in Quirindi and his father committed suicide when Rodney Johnson was 16 years of age. They outlined that Mr Johnson had attended many different schools, did not complete high school and had a “significant employment history” consisting of multiple shirt-term positions, which may have been reflective of his illness.
Mr Johnson had a history of substance abuse, however the psychiatric reports were inconsistent with respect to the details of that history. Mr Johnson began smoking cannabis as young as 9 years of age and by age 18 was smoking daily. He ceased smoking for a number of years, relapsed and said he had smoked cannabis two weeks prior to his arrest in October, 2017.
Mr Johnson disclosed that he had methylamphetamine in the week before the rampage, but only admitted to using ICE “a couple of times here and there”.
There was no evidence of drug use immediately before the incident, but substance abuse was considered a factor bearing on his mental illness.
Mr Johnson had a history of psychosis, well before the offences in October 2017 and a family history of mental illness.
The first record in evidence was a discharge from Nepean Hospital when Johnson was admitted as an involuntary patient in March 2015. He had developed a belief imposters had replaced his family. He responded to anti-psychotic medication and was discharged.
In March 2016 his family reported he had psychotic symptoms including believing he was infected with insects, staring at unseen stimuli, inappropriate giggle and talking to himself and hiding behind curtains.
Johnson was on a community treatment order in 2016, but after the order expired Johnson ceased further treatment.
Dr Furst said when Johnson discontinued medication, he relapsed into acute psychosis in the weeks leading up to the offences.
In the cells of the court house he had stripped down, torn apart a mattress and began trying to eat the stuffing of the mattress. After using the toilet, he used his clothes to wipe himself and rolled around on the floor in his own urine. He was trying to remove a sticker from the door, believing it was monitoring him.
The Days leading up to the rampage
Four days before the rampage down the New England Highway, he believed people were after him, heard voices and believed he was under imminent threat. He had not slept during this period.
He decided to leave Sydney and drove disorientated for three days in Sydney and on the Central Coast. He was too scared to stop the car for fuel or to go to the bathroom, urinating in the car instead and drove until the car ran out of petrol.
He then hitchhiked and caught a train to Quirindi, where he had family. He initially stayed in a motel but did not feel safe and went to stay with friends. He believed his friends were magical and had a plot to harm him and left.
Johnson believed he saw a black panther and a Yowie and knocked on strangers’ doors.
Quirindi Police Try to Help Johnson
On October 10 at approximately 3pm, Sergeant Brown and Senior Constable Hitchen were called to a job relating to an unpaid taxi fare at Bayliss Trading on Borambil Road in Quirindi. They saw Mr Johnson sitting with another male near some silos. They spoke with the other male and Mr Johnson walked off into the yard.
Mr Johnson had been looking for work at Bayliss Transport and were aware some of his family had worked there previously. Staff had assisted him and given him refreshments, but when Mr Johnson stated walking around the yard it made staff feel “uncertain and uncomfortable.”
As the police were leaving the site, they saw Mr Johnson walking down the road. It was a hot day in the mid-30’s and offered him a lift back into Quirindi.
They chatted during the ride about how he was doing and he said he needed to collect some belongings and find somewhere to stay. They collected his belongings and asked who they could contact for him or where he could stay. Mr Johnson said his friends and relatives did not want him to stay with them, “she won’t have me, the whole family is fucked and don’t want me there.”
Mr Johnson said he didn’t want to stay in a motel and wanted to hitchhike back to Sydney and asked to be taken to a truck stop. The police said it was clear he didn’t want to stay in Quirinid and offered to take him to the Willow Tree truck stop.
They asked him several questions about the unpaid taxi fare and Mr Johnson aid he would pay the fare once he “got his money sorted” and said there had been a problem with his card and payment.
The police drove him to the Willow Tree truck stop.
During the half hour the police spent with Mr Johnson, they described his behavior as quite rationally, he was polite and seemed genuinely appreciative of their help.
His State of Mind the Day of the Rampage
The forensic psychiatrists said that Mr Johnson had little recollection of what happened after he arrived at the Murrurundi Service Station on October 11 until he was arrested in Singelton and his thought process was scant.
The psychiatrists agreed it was highly likely he was acutely psychotic at the time of the offences, in response to paranoid delusions. Johnson’s behaviours and thoughts were consistent with chronic schizophrenia, with acute hallucinations. They were of the opinion he believed his life was in danger and his moral culpability was described as substantially reduced.
Mr Johnson had said he had seen what had happened on the TV. “It keeps me awake sometimes thinking that I hurt people and I feel bad about that.”
The Judge described Johnson’s behavior as “self-evidently bizarre”.
While the Judge said Johnson appears to be stable under treatment and had good prospects of psychiatric rehabilitation, he had a history of non-compliance with treatment.
The judge said there were indications that there was a significant risk of relapse I psychosis and supervision in the community would be needed upon his release, to ensure compliance with treatment, increase the likelihood of rehabilitation and reduce the risk of reoffending.
Judge Tim Gartelmann said no sentence other than imprisonment would be appropriate for Mr Johnson. He acknowledged that Mr Johnson had pled guilty to all offences at the first available opportunity and that entitled him to the 25 percent discount.
He stressed the need for Johnson to be the subject of extended supervision for compliance with treatment and medication and agreed his mental condition was likely to make custody more onerous than it otherwise would have been. The non-parole reflects the minimum time in custody before eligibility for parole.
The sentences were back date to when Mr Johnson began custody on October 11, 2017.
Mr Johnson was convicted of each offence and given an aggregate term of imprisonment for 12 years and six months, which expires on April 10, 2030.
He was given a non-parole period of 6 years and 6 months, which will will expire on April 10, 2024.
On release Johnson will be disqualified from driving for five years.
- Johnson: The Facts on the Day – March 2, 2019.
- Sentencing for Rodney Johnson – March 1, 2019.
- Johnson Matter Mentioned in Newcastle – December 6, 2017
- Motor Left Running – October 12, 2017
- The Damage Done – October 12, 2017.
- No Remorse for Victims; – October 12, 2017.
- Johnson Adjourned to Newcastle – October 12, 2017.
- Highway Open – Driver in Court Today – October 12, 2017.
- Police Chase Update – October 11, 2017.
- Patient Update: Police Chase – October 11, 2017.
- Police Chase Ends – October 11, 2017.