Life imprisonment has been handed out to a man who stabbed a Holbeach factory worker to death as an “element of punishment” after saving an 18-year-old girl from his clutches.
Stephen Sleaford (39)boasted to the frightened girl “we’ve dealt with it” after knifing drunk flower packer Janusz Smoderek (48) five times in the chest.
Sleaford, who had previously been jailed for 11 years for shooting a man with a shotgun, will serve a minimum of 23 years after a jury at Lincoln Crown Court found him guilty of murder by an 11-1 majority verdict.
He claimed only to have disarmed Mr Smoderek, who worked at Intergreen in Holbeach, after hearing the girl’s “hysterical screams” and going to her rescue as she walked home alone in Sleaford Road, Boston.
But the prosecution said it was Sleaford, from Boston, who tried to play the “hero” and produced a lock knife with which he repeatedly stabbed Smoderek.
Passing sentence, Judge Michael Heath said the girl had been “rescued and was in no danger” when Sleaford carried out the attack.
Judge Heath told Sleaford: “Janusz Smoderek had been drinking heavily in Boston town centre and followed the 18-year-old girl who was drunk and upset. She was walking alone.
“Janusz Smoderek sexually assaulted her by grabbing her breasts with both hands. You and two others were in the vicinity and to your credit you and another intervened.
“Janusz Smoderek was prevented from subjecting her to further sexual impropriety. She had been rescued and was no longer in danger.
“Smoderek was then attacked and was defenceless when he was stabbed by Sleaford. This was a brutal stabbing and there was an element of punishment.”
The jury was told Sleaford at first acted in a “lawful and praiseworthy manner” when he and another drinking pal intervened after Smoderek grabbed both of the frightened teenager’s breasts.
They heard Smoderek had been filmed on CCTV “hovering” around Boston town centre after finishing his shift at Intergreen and visiting a local lap dancing club. Tests showed he was also nearly three times the drink-drive limit for alcohol.
Sleaford calmly continued to walk the girl home past Smoderek who was left lying over a hedge already bleeding to death from a fatal wound which had pierced his heart.
Smoderek’s victim had been drinking heavily but remembered Sleaford swearing and saying “Oh my God, I’ve killed him.” She also recalled Sleaford telling her “We’ve dealt with it” and “It will only be 15 years in prison.”
CCTV showed Sleaford and the girl entering a local petrol station shortly after the 4am killing. In the footage Sleaford appeared to be waving his arms around.
Tim Spencer, QC, prosecuting, asked Sleaford during his evidence: “Were you full of your deeds? The hero that came to the rescue and dealt with this man?”
After leaving the petrol station Sleaford walked the girl to meet her boyfriend. The boyfriend said he shook Sleaford’s hand and asked him: “Have you stabbed somebody?” Sleaford replied: “Yes”.
Asked what with, Sleaford added: “A knife, I always carry a knife.”
Mr Spencer told the jury: “Mr Sleaford’s initial contact with the man he eventually killed was lawful, indeed praiseworthy. He intervened to separate Mr Smoderek from a highly distressed and very drunk young lady who he was molesting.
“But having rendered Mr Smoderek no threat to her or anybody else Mr Sleaford pulled out a knife he was carrying and used it with wholly disproportionate, unnecessary and unlawful violence.”
Smoderek’s body was found three hours after the murder in the front garden of a house in Sleaford Road, Boston. A post-mortem showed the father-of-three had sustained five stab wounds to his chest including the fatal injury to his heart. A lock-knife was found in a nearby garden.
Home Office pathologist Guy Rutty told the jury it could have been possible for Smoderek to “walk and talk” for several minutes before he collapsed and died. The Pole had been in the UK since 2004 but his wife had been jailed in their native Poland in 2010.
The jury heard Sleaford went on the run for 11 days, travelling first to Newcastle and then back to a number of addresses in Lincolnshire before he was arrested at a former girlfriend’s flat in Barnsley.
Sleaford said that he panicked because he felt he would be charged and held in custody simply because of his past criminal record.
The jury were told in 1994 Sleaford was jailed for 11 years for an offence of grievous bodily harm with intent after forcing his way into a house and twice shooting a man he had previously threatened. He also has a number of convictions for less serious offences.
Giving evidence, Sleaford claimed there were “plenty of other possibilities” for how Smoderek came to be stabbed – insisting he only disarmed the Pole after he saw him opening up a knife.
But Mr Spencer told Sleaford: “You knew it was safe to go along that bit of road because you had stabbed him, five times minimum, hard thrusts some of them.”
Sleaford, of no fixed address, denied murdering Mr Smoderek on September 11, 2011.
Mr Smoderek’s wife, Iwona, and daughters, Joanna, Agniszka and Malgorzata, said in a statement: “Janusz was a loving person who was loved by everyone and who did not deserve what happened to him.
“We are grateful that his murderer has been found guilty and that the justice system has not let us down.
“We would like to thank the police for their thorough investigation and for all the support received throughout the whole ordeal.
“We are disappointed that some of the press reporting during the trial lost sight of the fact that Janusz was the victim and that we, as a family, were grieving. We will always remember him as a wonderful husband, father and grandad and he will always live in our hearts”.
DCI Stuart Morrison, of the East Midlands Special Operations Unit, said “Stephen Sleaford is a very dangerous man. He tried to put himself forward as a white knight who came to the rescue of a young lady.
“Whilst we accept that what he did at first was praiseworthy what he did next was disproportionate and unnecessary. The jury have seen through him.He is a very violent man.
“This was a vicious and cowardly attack on an unarmed man. Irrespective of the circumstances in which Sleaford intervened that night, the level of violence used on Mr Smoderek was utterly disproportionate and resulted in a family losing a husband, father and grandfather.
“When people carry knives, there is always the potential for a tragedy to occur, and in this case, the knife was in the possession of a man with a history of violence who thought nothing of taking a man’s life”.