Father’s fight for justice

Courtney Herron was murdered in Melbourne last year. Her father, John, of Riddells Creek continues to fight for justice for his daughter.

By Lauren Duffy

A Riddells Creek father is continuing to fight for justice for his murdered daughter, following the accused killer being deemed ‘mentally impaired’.

John Herron’s daughter Courtney, 25, was murdered in May last year – her body found in Royal Park, Parkville.

Henry Hammond was charged with Courtney’s murder. He then pleaded not guilty to murder in December last year.

But at a consent mental impairment hearing at the Supreme Court last week, Courtney’s family were left reeling when the Office of Public Prosecutions, the OPP, did not oppose the not guilty plea and claims of being mentally impaired at the time of the murder.

Two psychiatrists’ reports, one prepared for the defence and one for the prosecution, agreed the accused had schizophrenia and ‘was unable to reason with a moderate degree of sense and composure about whether the conduct was wrong’.

But given Courtney’s body was moved a considerable distance and put under logs in an attempt to conceal it, Mr Herron, a lawyer, cannot accept Hammond did not understand what he was doing.

“Then the report comes out that he didn’t understand what he was doing – give us a break,” Mr Herron said.

“And I mean give us a break because we have to fight the death of our daughter and then we have to fight the people who should be protecting the community.”

Hammond’s circumstances can be likened to that of James Gargasoulas, who was also diagnosed to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and delusions, and was affected by ice when he ran down people in Bourke Street, Melbourne.

However a jury found Gargasoulas fit to stand trial for the murder of six people and attempted murder of 28. In the case of Hammond, he never faced a jury.

After pleading not guilty on the grounds of mental impairment, and with both the prosecution and defence agreeing Hammond was mentally impaired at the time of the murder, the court process proceeded to a consent mental impairment hearing, which the defence elected to be heard before a judge.

By not facing a jury, the defence avoided the prosecution calling witnesses and using the police’s interview with Hammond.

The case is due to be finalised at the Supreme Court on August 17, where a mental institution will be confirmed, and a supervision order handed down.

Mr Herron is particularly concerned about when Hammond could be released into the community and fears for the safety of women in Melbourne.

“This is about more than the death of my daughter – what my daughter would not want is for this happen again to another woman,” he said.

Released early

Hammond had been released early from a prison sentence when he met Courtney.

He was charged after assaulting a woman, threatening her with a knife, strangling her and breaking her eye socket.

“The breaking of the eye socket was something that was repeated with Courtney,” Mr Herron said.

“They could not reconstruct her head because of what he did.”

Hammond was sentenced in 2018 for the earlier attack but appealed in the County Court in April 2019, and was released four months early.

Six weeks later, he was arrested for Courtney’s murder.

The OPP didn’t oppose the appeal, and he was sentenced him to a community corrections order.

Mr Herron said he couldn’t understand the outcome of the appeal because judges were generally consistent in requiring offenders to participate in appropriate programs, and requiring a fixed place of residence.

“All of these things should have been put into place, like he had somewhere to live and he wasn’t on ice, and my daughter would be alive,” he said.

“But to let him out again with no fixed address is the most irresponsible action that I have ever seen or heard in a court that ultimately results in the death of the young woman.”

Mr Herron said he and his family were still piecing together the circumstances that led to the death of Courtney, who at the time was facing her own challenges.

“Parents shouldn’t have to fight this as much as fighting the murder of my daughter,” he said.

“And they shouldn’t have to wander around Melbourne, making their own inquiries trying to find out what happened.”

Mr Herron said the Attorney-General could intervene in the case but it was a remote chance.

“The OPP should have and still could probably obtain a truly independent psychological assessment from a reputable source, certainly not two people from the same institution,” he said.

“Justice for Courtney will be hard to be served, but what she would want most of all is for this to not be repeated over and over again in Melbourne, and young women ending up dead in the cemetery.”

Mr Herron said there were billions of dollars being spent on family violence initiatives, but the court system was not meeting community expectations.

“There’s a lot of good things that have come out of family violence programs, and helping women across the board and that’s a great thing. But at the end of the day, it’s meaningless if killers are being let out to kill women,” he said.

“After Courtney’s death, the police commissioner went on about this being about men’s attitudes to women … but what does that mean if you still get killed, and in the treatment of offenders of putting them away and then releasing them on appeal.”

Mr Herron said he hoped an online petition would assist in mounting a case for a Coroner’s inquest into Courtney’s death, and the Coroner would examine the OPP’s process and decision-making in both Courtney’s murder and the previous assault case.

While he can’t force the prosecution to conduct the case the way he wanted, Mr Herron said he hoped to increase public awareness with a view it would change the process in the future.

“Believe it or not, as a parent you are actually not necessarily focused on putting the perpetrator away forever, like the community is,” he said.

“You just have this unending, awful feeling that you don’t see your child again.

“It’s way beyond anything like the death of a parent or a sibling.

“It’s just this empty feeling of you want them to come back and see them again, but you never will.”

To sign the petition, visit www.change.org/p/request-for-victorian-coroner-to-investigate-all-aspects-of-courtney-herrons-death