A bizarre row about evolution versus creationism led to an English backpacker fatally stabbing a Scottish backpacker during a fruit-picking trip to earn money for their travels.
Alexander York, 33, from Essex, was sentenced to a maximum of five years in jail yesterday for the manslaughter of Rudi Boa, 28, a biomedical student from Inverness.
The incident happened in January last year at a caravan park in southern New South Wales, where York had become friendly with Mr Boa and his girlfriend, Gillian Brown. The Scottish couple had just arrived in Australia, and headed to Tumut, a picturesque town at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, to pick fruit.
Their neighbour at the Blowering Holiday Park was Alexander York, who had been in Australia since April 2005. The three of them got on well. On the night of Mr Boa's death, they had spent the evening drinking at a pub in Tumut, the Star Hotel.
Towards the end of the night, however, they became embroiled in the creationism versus evolution argument, and it escalated into a shouting-match in the pub. Mr Boa and Ms Brown were both adamantly opposed to York's Christian fundamentalist point of view.
Sentencing York in the New South Wales Supreme Court yesterday, Justice Michael Adams said: "Although this became perhaps a little sharp-edged, it did not really amount to anything.
"For some reason, however ... the offender's mood changed suddenly and he began to abuse Ms Boa and Ms Brown. There was no hint of a physical confrontation and what happened amounted to little more than a verbal contretemps."
The row had been defused by the time the backpackers left the pub separately, but all three were drunk, and tempers flared again after they returned to the caravan park.
Ms Brown told the court that York, who had been making dinner, attacked the couple outside his tent and delivered a single stab wound Mr Boa with a kitchen knife. York claimed he lashed out in self-defence after being attacked by Mr Boa.
He was found guilty of manslaughter but acquitted of murder, and ordered to serve at least three years in jail. The judge said he was giving him a relatively lenient sentence partly because of the accidental nature of the stabbing.
"I do not believe that he took aim, but rather thrust out," he said. "I think he knew that the knife was in his hand ... but he did not actually turn his mind to the potentially serious consequences of doing this.
"The offender's act was done impulsively and on the spur of the moment. I do not think the offender was aware of how seriously he had harmed Mr Boa."
The judge added that York was "a person of good character" and that the offence was "a complete aberration". York, unshaven and dressed in prison uniform, sat impassively as he was sentenced. Mr Boa's sister, Debbie, broke down when York was led into court, and during the sentencing.
A spokeswoman for the New South Wales office of the Director of Public Prosecutions said: "Justice Michael Adams QC took into account that part of the sentence has been served. Mr York is eligible for release in January 2009."