Woman’s chilling last words before homeless man bludgeoned her for hour
A schizophrenic man bludgeoned a woman to death with a branch for almost an hour because he thought she was an evil "spirit".
Henry Richard Hammond, 28, has been found not guilty of the murder of Courtney Herron, 25, as a Victorian Supreme Court judge ruled he was in the grip of a psychological delusion at the time.
Chillingly, Ms Herron's last words were: "Are you going to kill me?"
She'd met Hammond on May 24, 2019, when the homeless man approached her for a cigarette in Melbourne, Australia.
The two struck up a conversation and she asked if he wanted to come to a friend's house to take drugs.
He agreed and the two had dinner at a local restaurant before heading to the apartment to use "ice", a slang term for methamphetamine, with a group of Ms Herron's friends.
They filmed a video of her conversation with Hammond because the two were "acting strangely", the court heard.
In the early hours of May 25 the two headed to Royal Park together. It was there that Hammond picked up a tree branch, prompting a nervous Ms Herron to ask if he intended to kill her.
He hit her in the face and beat her repeatedly with the branch for 50 minutes.
A man who was sleeping in the park heard screaming and hitting sounds, and described Hammond as going "hell for leather" for almost an hour.
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Once Ms Herron was dead, Hammond tied her legs together and dragged her into a clearing.
He covered her body with branches in what he later told police was a "symbolic burial".
Three dog walkers found her with a piece of concrete over her face later that morning.
When Hammond was arrested he told officers Ms Herron had buried his wife alive in a past life and he killed her as an act of revenge, and that she would be reincarnated.
Psychiatrist Dr Ranji Darjee told the court Hammond suffered from untreated schizophrenia and believed his victim was not who she claimed to be but "someone else… like a spirit".
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"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," he told the court.
"He felt like he had to destroy her."
Drug use may have worsened his mental state but his beliefs, which revolved around Jesus as well as figures from Norse mythology, were a result of his pre-existing mental illness, he said.
Hammond had been exhibiting symptoms since 2017, making it "highly unlikely" he was faking his schizophrenia, Dr Darjee said.
A second doctor agreed Hammond was unable to know what he was doing was wrong due to his illness.
On Monday Justice Phillip Priest ruled that a verdict of not guilty be recorded.
"I'm satisfied on the evidence mental impairment is made out," he said.
He ordered that Hammond remain in custody until another hearing in September.
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