The Age

Tuesday 18 May 1999

Before a judge's sentence, mother begins a life term of anguish

By STEVE BUTCHER
The Age (Melbourne)

Antonietta Villante began a life sentence two days before Christmas last year.

From the dock of the County Court yesterday morning, it was painfully obvious the ``sentence'' has been a crushing one.

Despite the consequences of the crime she had committed and the inevitability of legal action, it felt inappropriate for the criminal justice system to be a part of yesterday's agonising proceedings.

For in the court trembled this young mother, devoted to and praised for her unquestioned love of her two children, traumatised for life because she had killed one of them through her negligent driving.

Isolated in the dock, but surrounded by family and friends, Villante, 26, formally revisited the horror of that December night by pleading guilty to a charge of culpable driving.

Villante's two-year-old son, Jacob John Anthony Villante, died after suffering a fractured skull and associated brain damage in an accident in Cranbourne South.

The prosecutor, Mr Geoff Horgan, said Villante was found to have a blood-alcohol reading of .139 per cent after her car veered on to the wrong side of Pearcedale Road and hit a tree.

Mr Horgan said Villante had drunk eight glasses of champagne at lunch and two more cups of champagne at another function between midday and 5.30pm.

Her speed was estimated at 93kmh in a 100kmh zone. She told police she had swerved to hit a rabbit, but marks on the road indicated the car drifted rather than moved suddenly, he said.

Her barrister, Mr Bob Kent, QC, told Judge Michael Higgins that ``seldom does a case come before the courts that calls for the exercise of mercy more than the required punishment than this one''.

Mr Kent said that was because Villante started ``a life sentence'' at the time of the accident.

His voice breaking, Mr Kent argued that the community should be ``sophisticated enough'' to say Villante had already been punished, would continue to be punished and that she should not be subjected to more ``for the purpose of punishing others''.

Anyone who understood ``the suffering of this mother'', whom Mr Kent described as an extraordinarily caring and loving mother, needed no further deterrent.

Mr Kent played to the court a video made for Jacob's funeral, which included photographs of him, his surviving brother and footage with his mother overlaid with music to demonstrate Villante's feeling towards her children.

With many of those in court sobbing, Mr Kent needed to compose himself before telling Judge Higgins that the video had shown a loved and cared-for child and the joy of a mother, ``so you understand the punishment she now feels''.

He said Villante's remorse was ``to a degree seldom, if ever, seen in these courts'' and that it ``places this case in an exceptional category'' that warranted that any prison sentence be suspended.

Mr Horgan described the case as tragic and said the relationship between a parent and child was one of the closest in society.

The crime required jail, but not necessarily one to be served immediately, he said.

Judge Higgins will sentence Villante, of Waterdale Drive, Cranbourne South, tomorrow morning.

Copyright (c) David Syme & Co 1999.