Murderer Jordan McSweeney succeeds in reducing minimum from 38 years to 33 years
The man convicted of the “brutal sexually motivated murder” of law graduate Zara Aleena has seen his minimum term in prison cut after a successful appeal bid.
Jordan McSweeney, 29, pleaded guilty last year to the murder and sexual assault of Aleena in Ilford, east London, in the early hours as she was walking home.
He was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 38 years by Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb at the Old Bailey in December.
But in a ruling on Friday, three judges at the appeal court in London allowed McSweeney’s appeal, finding that the sentencing judge had imposed too high an “uplift” to the minimum term, replacing it with a life sentence with a minimum term of 33 years.
The lady chief justice, Dame Sue Carr, sitting with Mrs Justice McGowan and Mrs Justice Ellenbogen, said McSweeney’s crimes were “abhorrent”.
She continued: “The judge’s findings in relation to planning and premeditation could not be faulted.
“She had correctly identified the seriousness of the murder as ‘particularly high’ – because it had involved sexual conduct – and the statutory starting point for the minimum term as being 30 years. That starting point reflected the mental or physical suffering inherent in a murder involving sexual conduct … It was already a very severe penalty.
“However, having correctly found that Ms Aleena must have been rendered unconscious at an early stage in the attack, the judge had lacked a sufficient evidential basis on which to be sure that there had been additional mental or physical suffering such as to justify an increase in the 30-year starting point.
“Mercifully, Ms Aleena was unconscious from early on in the attack. The number of items taken from Ms Aleena and then discarded meant also that it was not safe to conclude that Ms Aleena’s mobile telephone had been taken in order to prevent her from seeking help.
“Further, the suggestion that McSweeney had committed his offences in the expectation that he was likely imminently to be returned to custody for breach of licence conditions relating to earlier offending may have been overstated.”
McSweeney’s barrister, George Carter-Stephenson KC, said: “At the outset can I make it clear that it is accepted that the attack and murder in this case was particularly savage and brutal, and nothing I intend to say in this address is in any way meant to detract from that.”
The barrister said the sentencing judge, Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb, had wrongly factored in the “aggravating features” in the case.
Carter-Stephenson said it was accepted there was a sexual motive to the crime, but argued the murder itself was not premeditated.
He added: “The attack was an opportunistic act rather than anything that was planned in advance, though there was clearly a sexual encounter in mind.
“He planned to look for a sexual encounter, with or without consent.”
However, Oliver Glasgow KC, for the Crown Prosecution Service, said the suggestion McSweeney had not intended to kill Ms Aleena was “unsustainable”.
He told the court McSweeney had spent two hours stalking several women before turning his attention to Aleena.
The Old Bailey previously heard McSweeney stalked Aleena along Cranbrook Road before grabbing her from behind and dragging her into a driveway.
The attack, caught on grainy CCTV, lasted nine minutes and resulted in 46 separate injuries.
Aleena, who was training to be a solicitor, was found struggling to breathe and later died in hospital.