Shaun McNeil could have walked the other way.
But instead, with a mind “addled” by alcohol and fuelled by a mistaken belief that an innocent man was doing him wrong, he threw a punch that cost Sydney teenager Daniel Christie his life.
Now the 27-year-old former hospitality and construction worker has been sentenced to at least seven-and-a-half years in jail, while Daniel’s family face a lifetime grappling with their heartache.
Speaking after the sentencing of her son’s killer on Thursday, Maureen Christie said: “What happened to Daniel was brutal, senseless and unjustified. He was kind, gentle, generous and respectful.”
“He was entitled to so much more life.”
McNeil was in a “buoyant mood” as he was strolling through Sydney’s Kings Cross with his de facto Sonya Walker on New Year’s Eve 2013.
The celebrations took an unexpected and violent turn, however, when they were approached by a group of young boys offering to sell them drugs.
Enraged, McNeil became embroiled in a scuffle, hitting and kicking one of them.
After this fight finished, McNeil could have walked away.
“Ms Walker was calling out loudly, almost screaming, `Come on Shaun, it’s almost nine o’clock, let’s go, just leave it’,” Justice Robert Allan Hulme said on Thursday.
Instead, when Daniel questioned why he was hitting kids, McNeil – who has a background in body building and UFC fighting – confronted him.
The 18-year-old was “no match”, Justice Hulme said.
With a single “ferocious” blow Daniel went limp, fell back and hit his head on the road.
McNeil then turned on Daniel’s older brother Peter and punched him too.
In the gruelling days that followed for the Christie family, Daniel lay in an an induced coma, suffering seven strokes in one night and experiencing swelling down his spinal column and in his brain.
Then on the 11th day came his family’s haunting decision to turn off his life support.
Justice Hulme touched on their “grief that will never pass” when sentencing McNeil, saying “we are all the poorer” for the loss of a “remarkable young man”.
He found McNeil had shown genuine remorse and noted that a chaplain at Parklea prison said he was on a “personal mission to become the best person he can”.
But with his background of violent behaviour, Justice Hulme could only find his prospect of rehabilitation as “reasonable”.
He sentenced him to a maximum of 10 years in prison for Daniel’s manslaughter, his assault on the young boy and the assault occasioning actual bodily harm to Peter Christie.
McNeil will be eligible for parole in June 2021.