The man who killed a Melbourne heart surgeon after an argument over smoking will spend at least 10 years in jail after becoming the first person sentenced under Victoria’s one-punch laws.
Joseph Esmaili was sentenced to 10 years and six months’ jail, and the one-punch legislation means he will not be eligible for parole until serving 10 years.
The 24-year-old punched Patrick Pritzwald-Stegmann in the head at Box Hill Hospital, in Melbourne’s east, in May 2017.
The blow knocked the surgeon unconscious and caused him to fall backwards and hit his head on the tiled floor.
He died in hospital a month after the attack.
The pair got into an argument after the surgeon asked Esmaili and his friends to stop smoking in a non-smoking area outside the hospital’s entrance.
Mr Pritzwald-Stegmann was leaving to go home after the end of his shift but went back inside the hospital to get security.
Esmaili returned inside to go to the toilet when he overheard the surgeon making the request.
That is when Esmaili began abusing him.
‘Neither of you was prepared to simply walk away’
Witnesses told police Mr Pritzwald-Stegmann asked Esmaili to leave the hospital, but he responded by telling the surgeon, “You need to suck my d***”.
Mr Pritzwald-Stegmann was then overheard angrily retorting, “You just spat in my face”.
In sentencing, Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth said the men were arguing loudly and aggressively.
“Suddenly and without warning … you punched him with a clenched fist to the head,” she said.
“Unfortunately neither of you was prepared to simply walk away from the argument.”
Esmaili fled from the hospital after punching the surgeon and told his friends outside that they needed to leave because he had just hit someone.
He was arrested the following day.
Widow urges hospitals to enforce smoking bans
Mr Pritzwald-Stegmann’s wife said the sentence given to her husband’s killer reflected Esmaili’s “total lack of responsibility or remorse”.
“Patrick was brutally and fatally assaulted protecting Box Hill Hospital patients, visitors and colleagues,” Christine Baumberg said outside court.
She described her husband as a “loving husband and father” who spent his professional life dealing with lung cancers and other harmful side effects of smoking.
“I call on the Victorian government and the management of all Victorian hospitals to properly enforce hospital smoking bans and to provide a safe workplace for all hospital staff,” she said.
Esmaili accepted ‘no responsibility’ for death
In a recorded police interview played to the jury during his trial, Esmaili told detectives: “I wasn’t trying to hit him hard, I shouldn’t have hit him in the first place, I know.”
A jury found Esmaili guilty of manslaughter last November, rejecting his claims he was acting in self-defence and that Mr Pritzwald-Stegmann’s death was caused by his family’s decision to withdraw life support, rather than the punch itself.
Justice Hollingworth said Mr Pritzwald-Stegmann’s death had devastated his entire family, including his twin daughters, who were aged five when their father died.
“The trial was also traumatic for them in particular because you accepted no responsibility and continued to blame Mr Pritzwald-Stegmann for what happened at the hospital,” she said.
“He was hard-working, passionate about his vocation and determined to be the best doctor he could be.”
Victoria’s one-punch laws were introduced in 2014 and require prosecutors to prove four key elements, including:
- that the punch was deliberate;
- that the punch was to the head or neck;
- that the victim would not have expected it;
- that the attacker probably knew the victim was not expecting to be punched.
The mother of a man killed in a one-punch attack in 2012 was also at court for Wednesday’s sentence.
Caterina Politi’s 22-year-old son David Cassai was killed at Rye, south of Melbourne.
She has since worked to raise awareness about the dangers of violence.
“At least he [Esmaili] is away for 10 years and that impacts on his life,” an emotional Ms Politi said outside court.
“We’ll never get our loved ones back. But it impacts on [his] life … and hopefully this is the start of many more changes to the justice system, because we deserve it, victims deserve it.”