One Punch Kills Doctor, Brings 10 Years in Smoking Quarrel

It's Australia's first conviction under one-punch law
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2019 4:50 PM CDT
Updated Apr 18, 2019 12:21 AM CDT
A doctor confronted smokers outside the entrance to Box Hill Hospital in Melbourne.   (Getty/ NilsBV)

(Newser) – A May 2017 confrontation over smoking in a non-smoking area outside a Melbourne, Australia, hospital resulted in the death of a cardiothoracic surgeon and a minimum 10-year sentence for the man who killed him with a single punch. Joseph Esmaili became the first person to be sentenced under Victoria's one-punch law, ABC reports. The 24-year-old was handed 10 years and six months and won't be eligible for parole for a decade. The 2014 law covers a punch to the head or neck and applies whether death resulted directly from the punch or from a fall after the victim is struck. When the law took effect, the Crime Victims Support Association said that provision would keep attackers from avoiding conviction. "They've just been virtually walking away and saying they hit the concrete, and that's what killed them—not the punch," Noel McNamara said, per ABC.

Dr. Patrick Pritzwald-Stegmann, who treated lung cancer patients, had seen Esmaili and others smoking just outside Box Hill Hospital and told them it was a non-smoking area. They refused to leave, the Age reports, and the doctor went inside to get security to evict them. Minutes later, Esmaili, who had gone inside to use the restroom, overheard Pritzwald-Stegmann talking about the group and started cursing him. The 41-year-old doctor—who fell backward, hitting his head on a tile floor after Esmaili punched him—suffered a catastrophic brain injury and was taken off life support a month later. Pritzwald-Stegmann spent his career dealing with the effects of smoking, his wife said. "I wasn't trying to hit him hard," Esmaili told police. "I shouldn't have hit him in the first place, I know." (A single punch killed a man in New York last summer.)

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