By Cam Lucadou-Wells
An 18-year-old student at a Beaconsfield school awaiting a Crown appeal against a “manifestly inadequate” sentence for two sexual assaults has pleaded guilty to a violent assault at a park.
Laku Laku, also known as Luka Luka, of Hampton Park, was bailed after pleading guilty to assault and attempted robbery at a hearing at Dandenong Magistrates’ Court on 13 February.
Laku – flanked by two associates – attacked a group of three victims having coffee and taking photos at Pop Up Park in Dandenong on 20 September, the court heard.
After asking for a cigarette, Luka put a headlock on an international student holding a phone. Luka demanded the phone and PIN.
Another victim, who came to the student’s aid, was punched in the face by Luka.
He also felled a victim by kicking out their legs. He then tried to kick them in the head while on the ground, but missed, police prosecutor Senior Constable Ryan Johnson said.
No items were stolen during the attempted robbery at the park on Foster Street, opposite Dandenong railway station.
During a police interview, Laku made admissions.
He had been extremely drunk at the time and didn’t remember the incident, he told police.
He initially claimed he didn’t try to steal anything but lashed out in response to a comment by one of the victims.
Laku is facing an appeal hearing after being sentenced to a two-year community correction order without conviction at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 16 January for two sexual assaults and cannabis possession.
The Acting DPP Gavin Silbert QC lodged an appeal on 6 February, labelling the sentence as “manifestly inadequate”.
It is set to be heard at the County Court of Victoria on 10 April.
At the Dandenong hearing, a defence lawyer told the court Laku’s upbringing included a brief exposure to violence in Sudan.
He lived with his older sisters, given his parents were dead, the court heard.
The assault occurred within weeks of turning 18, the lawyer said.
A pastoral associate from Laku’s school told the court that the student had gained “traction” and stability over recent weeks.
Being taken out of school for the court hearing had added to Laku’s “emotional distress when he’s trying to move on”, the pastoral associate said.
Magistrate Jack Vandersteen said the charges were serious, noting the need for people to feel safe in parks.
“We don’t want to get to the point that people are scared to meet at parks because of a fear of being assaulted.”
Mr Vandersteen bailed Laku on grounds that he didn’t associate with his two co-offenders, didn’t attend Dandenong if affected by alcohol and followed the lawful directions of the school pastor and youth support service YSAS.
The sentence was deferred to see how Laku went on bail and to await the County Court outcome, Mr Vandersteen said.
Up until 2017 Laku was excelling at sports and academics before a false allegation caused him great shame and distress, the magistrate said.
“Historically we were trying to work out why you were coming to court for offences that were out of character for you.
“You’re obviously quite a talented young man.
“You need to direct your energy in the best way you can.”
Mr Vandersteen noted Laku self-referred to YSAS, had recently passed clear drug tests and was still attending school.
Laku was bailed to appear at Dandenong Magistrates’ Court on 20 April.