A drug-debt enforcer who "went well beyond" his duty after firing a rifle randomly towards a group of fleeing men, leaving one hospitalised, has been sentenced to jail after two mistrials.
Christopher Cunningham, 34, appeared via videolink in the ACT Supreme Court on Thursday for sentencing after pleading guilty to an act of endangering life and unauthorised possession of a prohibited firearm.
The court heard that in March 2019, Cunningham and Alex Dimitrov went to a woman's house to recover a $600 drug debt.
The woman said it had already been settled with the shooting victim, Graham O'Neil.
"This will be very ugly, very quickly for you," Cunningham said before they left to their Theodore premises.
O'Neil and six other men - with some of them heavily drunk - then arrived at the premises during the night.
The victim, in an angry mood, started calling for Dimitrov to come out before threatening Cunningham that "I'm coming back and I'm going to shoot you in the head".
As the group turned around and began to leave, Cunningham shot a rifle, which had been organised earlier, into the air, prompting the group to run, before firing nearly half a dozen bullets towards them.
One hit O'Neil's right thigh that left him being taken to the Canberra Hospital while other bullets hit surrounding properties.
The court heard O'Neil contacted Dimitrov previously, prompting him to approach former ACT Comanchero commander Peter Zdravkovic, who knew Cunningham, for protection.
About a month after the shooting, police executed a search warrant at Cunningham's Calwell house and found a rifle in his unauthorised possession.
The offender initially pleaded not guilty to the aforementioned charges and one of intentionally inflicting grievous bodily harm.
He was on trial when he changed his pleas with the prosecution dropping the bodily harm charge.
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Margaret Jones, SC, representing Cunningham, said that while her client's actions were dangerous and that the consequences could have been worse, he did not deliberately shoot O'Neil.
Ms Jones said Sarah Avison, a woman with Cunningham and Dimitrov at the time of the offending, gave evidence that Cunningham was "shooting randomly up the street".
"It was both very unfortunate that one of the bullets hit Mr O'Neil and very fortunate that it hit him where it did," she said.
Ms Jones said had her client shot only into the air, it could "almost be arguable that it was potentially self-defence but obviously he went further and went well beyond".
For sentencing considerations, she cited his personal background and circumstances and good prospects of rehabilitation because of his motivation to father his children.
The court heard there were photos showing Cunningham, a former mechanic, as a member of the Rebels outlaw motorcycle gang.
Ms Jones, however, said her client was not a member at the time of the shooting and his membership was not relevant to sentencing.
Crown prosecutor Marcus Dyason said that while their case was not related to outlaw motorcycle gang activity, the connection went to Cunningham's poor prospects of rehabilitation.
Mr Dyason said the motivation for the offender to father his children was a factor for at least the past 15 years, but it had not kept him out of trouble.
He described Cunningham's role in the drug debt as needless involvement and reckless.
"The consequences could've been worse not only to the group that was running away but any other residents [on that street] that night," he said.
Justice David Mossop said Cunningham did not need to "insert himself in the role" and that there was a degree of premeditation with organising the gun "for an anticipated confrontation".
"The offending represents a significant escalation point," he said.
"He has demonstrated no remorse."
Justice Mossop sentenced Cunningham to three years and nine months' jail backdated to December 12 to account for his pre-sentence custody.
With a non-parole period of 30 months, Cunningham will be eligible for parole in June 2023.
Sarah Avison and Alex Dimitrov were not charged over the incident.
The latest trial and sentencing come after the juries in two previous trials of Cunningham were discharged.
The prosecution dropped charges against a previous co-accused, Benjamin Moarefi.
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