A young woman who was bludgeoned to death by a homeless man in a brutal assault lasting almost an hour became scared and asked him ‘are you going to kill me?’ moments before the attack began, a court has heard.
Henry Hammond, 28, was charged with the murder of Courtney Herron, 25, after a group of dog walkers found her disfigured body under a pile of branches in Royal Park in Melbourne’s inner-north in May 2019.
A judge on Monday found Hammond not guilty because he was suffering from schizophrenia when he killed Ms Herron.
Revealing harrowing details of the case for the first time, a special court hearing heard how a night out together ended with Hammond raising a tree branch to the 25-year-old and beating her repeatedly for about 50 minutes.
Ms Herron had treated Hammond to dinner that night at a restaurant in Fitzroy before they joined a group of her friends and smoked ice together, the court heard.
Friends took a video of their conversation because they were ‘acting strangely’.
The pair then headed to the park in the early hours of May 25.
Hammond picked up the tree branch and Ms Herron became scared, asking ‘are you going to kill me?’
A man sleeping nearby heard screams followed by hitting sounds and described Hammond as going ‘hell for leather’ for almost an hour.
Ms Herron’s legs were then tied together and she was dragged into a clearing and covered with branches, giving her what he described to police as a ‘symbolic burial’.
Hammond later told police the young woman had buried his wife alive in a past life, and he killed her in an act of revenge, the ABC reported.
Two psychologists told Victoria’s Supreme Court that Hammond was schizophrenic and didn’t know what he was doing, or that it was wrong.
Those close to Ms Herron believe Hammond is feigning his mental illness, but Dr Ranji Darjee said Hammond had symptoms including spiritual and religious delusions and grandiose beliefs dating back to 2017.
Hammond believed Ms Herron was a spirit connected to a past life who was there to hurt him, and that she would be reincarnated.
‘I think he truly felt that he was under threat and if he didn’t do what he did then he was going to come to very serious or fatal harm,’ Dr Darjee said, adding that it would be ‘virtually impossible’ for him to fake schizophrenia.
He also said drugs Hammond had used that day may have worsened or exacerbated his mental state.
Justice Phillip Priest ordered Hammond remain in custody until the matter returns to court in September.