An elderly NSW man who stabbed his wife to death in an attempted murder-suicide weeks before Christmas could die in prison, the judge who sentenced him over the crime said.
Heinz Ratke, 76, pleaded guilty earlier this year to murdering Maria, his 71-year-old wife of more than 50 years, in their Katoomba home.
Her body was found on December 15, 2020, but she may have been dead for up to six days.
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Ratke is believed to have stabbed his wife in their bed on the night of December 8.
He appeared before the NSW Supreme Court via audio-visual link from prison as Justice Richard Weinstein sentenced him to 17 years and three months, with a non-parole period of 11 years.
“The murder of Ms Ratke was bizarre, senseless and tragic,” Weinstein said.
Ratke was seen nodding his head at the judge’s comments.
Maria and Heinz Ratke. Credit: 7NEWS
The court heard Ratke, who was mentally impaired at the time of the murder, was motivated by his desire to spare his wife from living in poverty.
In the months before the murder, the couple — who were not claiming any government benefits — had run out of money and were in debt.
Ratke managed the couple’s financial affairs and had kept details of their dire circumstances from his wife.
After going to bed on the night of December 8, Maria told her husband she planned to go shopping the next day, the court heard.
Ratke then walked to the kitchen, got a knife and stabbed her in the chest.
He then put a pillow over her head and pulled the sheets up. The next day, he felt that she was cold to touch.
In the days following, Ratke made several attempts to take his life before and contacted family members via social media.
He was found unresponsive in the kitchen of the home on December 15, while Maria was found dead in their bed with the sheets pulled up to her chin.
A note found in the kitchen read: “My love, my life has paid the price.”
The couple were married for more than 50 years. Credit: 7NEWS
In a police interview, Ratke said he’d stabbed his wife three times. Police then informed him she had been stabbed 16 times.
Forensic psychiatrist Dr Andrew Ellis found Ratke was probably depressed for months before the murder, and this impaired fundamental processes and his judgement.
His depression was not being treated at the time.
Weinstein found the murder was near the mid-range of objective seriousness and aggravated by the fact it was premeditated and there was an intention to kill.
“It is the epitome of domestic violence offending, although there was no history of domestic violence (in the relationship),” he said.
Ratke has a “negligible” criminal history and was of good character before murdering his wife.
In a sentence hearing earlier this year, the court was read a handwritten letter from Ratke in which he expressed remorse, shame and sadness for murdering his wife.
“Adding to this is the constant reminder of the fear my wife must’ve experienced at the hands of the person she trusted the most,” the letter read.
“I hurt the person I loved the most.
“I can never explain or excuse my actions.
“My wife never deserved this outcome.”
Weinstein found Ratke was suffering from a mental health impairment at the time, namely a major depressive illness with narcissistic personality traits.
“By December 2020 … Ratke was in a deep hole of depression and unable to think clearly other than acting on ideas to kill his wife,” Ratke’s lawyers had submitted, the judge said.
The judge made a finding of special circumstances due to Ratke’s age, his mental and physical health and the fact this would be the first time he has been incarcerated.
“I also observe … there is every possibility that he will die in custody,” he said.
With his sentence backdated to his arrest in December 2020, Ratke will be eligible for release on parole in December 2031.
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.
Advice and counselling for men concerned about their use of family violence: Men’s Referral Service, 1300 766 491.
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