Kmart kidnapper gets harsher sentence after government appeal

The little girl was snatched from the toy aisle

A paedophile who sexually assaulted a seven-year-old girl after taking her from a Kmart store has had the date for his potential release from jail pushed back on appeal.

Sterling Mervyn Free was set to be able to apply for parole in August 2021 after he was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment in October last year.

But the Queensland Court of Appeal has granted an appeal to see him spend more time behind bars, after state Attorney General labelled his initial sentence manifestly inadequate.

Free now must serve at least half of his sentence, meaning the earliest he can be released is December 2022.

Carl Heaton QC, for Attorney General Yvette D’Ath, told the appeal court earlier this month the initial sentence failed to recognise the need to deter, denounce and send a clear message to the community that similar offending will not be tolerated.

Heaton said a psychologist’s report found Free knew what he was doing was wrong but was unable to control his pedophilic urges, and there was a risk he could re-offend.

“The court has a responsibility to send a very powerful message and (impose) a very strong sentence for offending of this nature,” he said.

Free’s lawyers said his early guilty plea and cooperation with police mitigated the need for a harsh sentence.

But the appeal court accepted the community needs to be protected from Free.

“The mitigating effect of a guilty plea and cooperation, whilst still deserving of tangible recognition, must yield to other factors, such as denunciation and community protection,” the appeal court’s judges said.

In December 2018, Free, a father-of-two himself, lured the little girl out of a toy aisle at Kmart in Brisbane.

Her mother was inside the store doing Christmas shopping at the time.

He drove her half an hour away, molested her and dropped her off near the shopping centre.

She had been missing for about 90 minutes.

This article first appeared on 7News and has been republished here with permission.

Related stories