HomeNewsAustralia'She died because of her kindness': A mother's life sentence

‘She died because of her kindness’: A mother’s life sentence

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On Monday, Justice Phillip Priest ruled that Henry Hammond was not guilty of Courtney (Konstandina) Herron’s murder due to mental impairment. 

Her mother, Maxie Antoniou, has told The Age that the verdict felt like a punch in the guts as she tries to keep things together for her family, including her elderly mother and two children.

“I hate the fact I’ve got the life sentence,” Maxie says. “I’ve been fighting for justice for so long.”

Courtney was 25 when she was fatally assaulted in Melbourne’s Royal Park by Hammond, a homeless man she had given a cigarette to on the afternoon of May 24 last year.

CONTENT WARNING: Readers may find the contents of this report distressing.

The pair went to dinner at a Fitzroy restaurant together, where security cameras captured them in friendly conversation, before Courtney paid for Hammond’s meal and they went to a friend’s apartment and smoked cannabis and ice.

SES personnel conducted a line search in Royal Park after Courtney’s body was discovered. Photo: AAP: James Ross.

In the early hours of May 25, the pair left the apartment and entered the sprawling park at about 4.30am.

Hammond picked up a branch and Courtney became scared. Hammond would later tell police her last words were: “Are you going to kill me?”

A witness sleeping in the park said the frenzied attack lasted 50 minutes. He described hearing a woman’s screams and her attacker going “hell for leather.”

Hammond then tied Courtney’s legs together and dragged her body into a clearing where he covered her with branches, before taking her phone and wallet.

These are details that will haunt her mother forever.

“The fact she turned around and saw him and got really scared and those were her last words … She wouldn’t have understood why. She would never think like that,” Maxie tells the media outlet.

“She was trusting but so vulnerable because she didn’t understand that not everyone is like her. She wouldn’t have understood it with every blow coming down on her.”

Courtney Herron with her mother Maxie.

Maxie says it was her daughter’s kindness – the small act of giving someone on the street a cigarette – that led to her death.

“It’s like a sliding doors moment. She died because of her kindness.”

Hammond was arrested on the afternoon of May 26. He initially denied knowing Courtney, but later told police he “recognised Courtney from a past life” and had finally gotten his “revenge” on her.

READ MORE: Henry Hammond found not guilty of Courtney Herron’s murder due to schizophrenia.

‘The family is so angry’:

It wasn’t long after Courtney’s death that her family learnt that just weeks before the killing, Hammond had been released from jail after successfully appealing a sentence he had received for threatening to kill his ex-partner.

Court documents show that in April last year, Hammond was released on a community corrections order after serving a portion of a 10.5 month sentence for waving a knife in the face of his partner, before choking and punching her, fracturing her eye socket.

That’s despite a judge admitting the community corrections program was at odds with the killer’s free-spirited “nomadic” lifestyle, where he did not have a home base. 

RELATED: Courtney Herron’s father demands justice for her brutal murder.

“My daughter would be alive now if Hammond wasn’t released. It’s had a devastating impact on her family, particularly her siblings who are struggling to get through this,” Courtney’s father, John Herron, said at the time in a special report for A Current Affair.

Maxie adds she was “appalled” when she discovered Hammond had tried to kill his ex-partner.

“Finding out that she need not have died had he not been released, it was the first punch in the gut. It was horrifying to discover he had tried to kill his ex-partner… I was appalled,” she says.

‘The system is broken’:

On Monday, the Supreme Court heard that two psychiatrists believed Hammond was in the midst of a relapse of his schizophrenic illness at the time of Courtney’s killing in May 2019.

Justice Phillip Priest accepted the evidence of the two psychiatrists. He directed a verdict of not guilty by mental impairment be recorded.

Maxie finds it hard to accept the testimony of the two psychiatrists and says Hammond’s story shows just how much Courtney was let down by “a very flawed mental health system.”

“If he has had schizophrenia since 2017 and was in and out of the mental health system, how come it wasn’t picked up? Why did they let him out if he was so ill?” she says.

Maxie says the ‘not guilty’ verdict was a punch in the guts. Credit: Luis Ascui.

She spent years trying to help Courtney, who battled a drug addiction from her late teens and spent time in hospital several times for her mental illness issues.

“We have a mental health system that is completely broken… We need to change the way we look at mental illness and how we are attacking it. We don’t have any other choice,” Maxie says.

But alongside the pain Maxie suffers, she still has good memories of those times when her daughter’s drug addiction wasn’t consuming.

“I don’t want people to think about her being hurt. I want them to remember her as funny, sweet, loving and a trusting person who was talented but couldn’t recognise that.”

Hammond was remanded until his next court hearing on September 14, when the court will make a supervision order.

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