A man has been sentenced to jail after a family feud in a remote community ended with another man being speared in the chest by an arrow fired from a bow that narrowly missed the victim’s heart.
Keith Warrigal pleaded guilty in the NT Supreme Court to two counts of unlawfully causing serious harm on April 8, which saw him facing a 14-year maximum sentence.
The court heard a “longstanding ill will between two major families at Peppimenarti” reportedly escalated after a pet dog was run over.
Fighting had broken out at the small town’s basketball court on April 7, with a large mass gathering of people armed with steel poles and rocks.
Despite a heavy police presence the fighting continued into the next day.
Community members ran into nearby bushland with children to hide as the argument intensified, the Crown facts state.
“Keith Warrigal armed himself with a compound bow and at least two arrows and walked from his residence to where the groups were standing,” Supreme Court judge Jenny Blokland said in handing down her sentence.
“People from both sides were shouting at each other.”
The judge described the bow and arrow as a “formidable looking piece of equipment”.
“Keith Warrigal continued to walk towards a small group of men, including the victim,” she said. “From approximately 15 metres away from them, he placed one arrow into the compound bow and pulled the bow string.
“He aimed the arrow at the group of men and released the bow string.
“That arrow narrowly missed the group. He did the same with the second arrow, aimed again at the small group of men, and the second time, the arrow struck the victim to the left side upper chest, with the point narrowly missing his heart, and coming to rest approximately two centimetres from his spine.”
Lucky to be alive
The victim was flown to Darwin and admitted to the Royal Darwin Hospital on the same day of the incident.
During sentencing the court heard further details of the victim’s damage, and ongoing, lifesaving surgery.
On arrival to the hospital, the arrow was penetrating from the front of the left side of his chest, Judge Blokland said.
“The arrow had gone through the lung, narrowly missed the heart and larger vessels of the lung and touched the ribcage at the back of the chest wall,” she said.
“Without medical intervention, the victim most likely would have died, as one of two things could have happened; namely, complications would have ensued if he had removed it himself, or if it had been left in, infection, sepsis and death.”
Recovery is a mitigating factor
Judge Blokland said the victim’s recovery mitigated “to some degree” the overall gravity of the incident.
An impact statement highlighted the victim continues to feel worried as a result of the fight and called for a lengthy jail sentence.
The court heard Warrigal has remained in prison on a low security rating since the incident and has been working in the kitchen.
Concerns over a possible “payback” were raised by the Wadeye Community Corrections officer who suggested Warrigal reside in Darwin upon his release.
Judge Blokland said it was difficult to set an imprisonment term which properly recognised the gravity of the offending and the use of a bow and arrow as a weapon.
She also said she had taken into account the difficulties of life in remote communities and the complexities of a “community experiencing difficulties”.
“If not for the plea of guilty, he would be sentenced to around three years and six months imprisonment,” Judge Blokland said.
“Given the plea, he is convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment, which will be suspended after serving 12 months. The terms will commence on April 8 of this year.”