Killer could be free in 3½ years

Andrea Petrie

LEON Borthwick could be out of jail in less than 3½ years after yesterday being sentenced for the manslaughter of his love rival, Mark Zimmer.

Mr Zimmer, 19, died in his father’s arms in a Narre Warren South driveway shortly after midnight on November 16, 2008, after he was struck while trying to run away from a Toyota Tarago. Driving the van, which was travelling 45 km/h on the wrong side of Ormond Road, was a jealous Borthwick, who was unhappy about the relationship Mr Zimmer had struck up with his ex-girlfriend, Nicola Martin.

Justice Katharine Williams labelled Borthwick’s actions a ”serious example of manslaughter by criminal negligence” as she sentenced him to a maximum of 7½ years with a minimum of five. The jury acquitted him of murder. He has served 624 days.

”Despite the screamed protests of your passengers, you took no evasive action before tragically taking a young man’s life,” she said.

”Even if events occurred too fast for you to stop when Mark Zimmer moved on to the road, his death occurred because of the extremely dangerous way in which you were driving.”

The trial heard that Borthwick had threatened to kill and injure Mr Zimmer several times, but the judge said she was not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Borthwick had deliberately driven at Mr Zimmer.

Borthwick had also threatened to go to Mr Zimmer’s house at midnight and kill him the night he died. Mr Zimmer called police but was told they could to nothing unless Borthwick turned up.

”Mr Zimmer woke his father and told him he could not continue living with your intimidation and decided to go to your home to have matters out,” Justice Williams said.

Mr Zimmer and eight friends, who had armed themselves for protection, went to Borthwick’s home.

Borthwick soon returned to the street in his mother’s van – and suddenly swerved on to the wrong side of the road and struck Mr Zimmer. He died of massive head injuries.

Justice Williams described Borthwick’s explanation of what happened to a forensic psychologist as ”misleading, inaccurate and self-serving”.

”You suggested that you had progressively formed the opinion that Mark Zimmer was determined to assault you or perhaps even cause you very serious injury,” she said. ”I am satisfied that any threats rather emanated from you and that Mark Zimmer had essentially been conciliatory in response.”

Outside court, Mr Zimmer’s family expressed anger at being forced to sit upstairs in court with a large group of supporters, who were all wearing Mr Zimmer’s favourite colour, green. Borthwick’s family was downstairs.

The victim’s sister, Kornelia Zimmer, said she felt like she had been ”treated like a piece of trash”. “The whole trial process has been nothing but victimisation and further trauma by the court system,” she said.

The family’s heart-wrenching victim impact statements had earlier been heavily edited in front of them and Borthwick’s plea hearing was adjourned three times, resulting in delays in sentencing.

Justice Williams said the families were separated for security, safety and comfort reasons.

The victim’s father, Christian Zimmer, said it was unnecessary considering they had all sat in the same room at the trial without a problem. “It’s not fair. We don’t want to be here, we’d prefer to be at home with our son, but if we have to be here, treat us like decent human beings.”

Borthwick smirked as he was led from court by security guards.