Man found not guilty by way of mental impairment of murder of Courtney Herron

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

A man charged with the brutal murder of Courtney Herron in a Melbourne park last year has been found not guilty due to mental impairment.

Henry Hammond, 28, was charged with murder the day after 25-year-old Ms Herron's body was found in between logs by three dog walkers in Royal Park in Parkville.

Courtney Herron with her mother Maxie.

Mr Hammond pleaded not guilty by mental impairment earlier this year, which was not opposed by the prosecution.

Justice Phillip Priest accepted that Mr Hammond was unfit to stand trial during a hearing in the Supreme Court of Victoria on Monday.

"I'm satisfied on the evidence the defence of mental impairment is made out," he said.

Reports by two forensic psychiatrists found that Mr Hammond was in the midst of a relapse of his schizophrenic illness at the time of the killing.

Dr Rajan Darjee, a forensic psychiatrist, told the court he believed Mr Hammond has suffered from schizophrenia since at least 2017, characterised by abnormal beliefs and delusions about spirits, Norse gods and Jesus.

Courtney Herron

He also said he believed that at the time of offending, Mr Hammond was suffering from schizophrenia and not a drug-induced psychosis, and that while the drug use may have exacerbated the offending it wasn't the cause.

"He felt that [Courtney] intended harm to him. He felt she was interfering with his mind. He felt she had been involved in some way in a past life in which she had harmed him or people close to him," he said.

"And I think he believed she was actually not who she was but was someone else, perhaps a spirit, that had entered her body and felt it was linked to a wider conspiracy … because of that he had to destroy her."

The court heard on May 24 last year, Ms Herron spent the afternoon with her boyfriend and his cousin in the Melbourne CBD.

The trio were sitting on the steps at the old GPO building on the corner of Bourke Street and Elizabeth Street when Mr Hammond approached the group and asked for a cigarette. Ms Herron gave him one.

Henry Hammond.

She then asked him if he wanted to smoke ice in Fitzroy and he agreed. The group travelled to the inner-north suburb on the tram where they attempted to meet up with one of Ms Herron's friends.

Ms Herron and Mr Hammond then went together to a friend's apartment where they smoked cannabis and methamphetamine.

At 8.30pm, Mr Hammond and Ms Herron left the apartment and went for dinner at Vegie Bar on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy. The pair had dinner and CCTV from the venue shows they had "friendly banter and conversation".

Ms Herron paid for Mr Hammond's meal, and they returned to the friend's apartment.

Several people there noticed Mr Hammond behaving strangely, and saw the pair communicating with each other using hand signals and talking about magic and dragons.

At 3.30am, the pair left the apartment and entered the grounds of Royal Park from Elliott Avenue at about 4.30am.

While walking through the park, Mr Hammond picked up a branch.

"Courtney was scared and asked Hammond, 'Are you going to kill me?'," prosecutor Melissa Mahady told the court.

"Hammond then struck her to the head with the branch. She started screaming and a man sleeping in the park heard screams and a hitting sound. Hammond was repeatedly striking Courtney to the face with the branch."

It was estimated Mr Hammond bludgeoned the body with the branch for 50 minutes. A man sleeping in the park who heard the attack described it as "just constant" and "intense".

Mr Hammond then tied her feet together with black material and dragged the body to a clearing near a tree and some logs. He covered her with leaves, a tree branch and put a piece of concrete on her face.

He sat at the scene and smoked a cigarette, leaving about 7.30am with Ms Herron's phone and wallet. Dog walkers found her body at 9.10am and called police.

An autopsy found Ms Herron suffered significant injuries to her face, chest and abdomen associated with internal injuries that caused her death.

Mr Hammond was arrested on May 26 at 4.45pm by police at the Salvation Army centre on Bourke Street.

He initially provided a no-comment interview and denied knowing Ms Herron.

In a second interview, he said he had been walking through Royal Park and had recognised "her treachery towards him and her family" and said the "trees had dropped sticks for a reason".

He told police he recognised Ms Herron from a past life when he was happily married and "had everything", and admitted to hitting her with a stick and punching her.

Ms Herron was raised in Melbourne's northern suburbs in a Greek-Australian family. She had a younger brother and a sister.

Ms Herron was farewelled during a funeral in June at a Greek Orthodox church in Melbourne’s north-west.

A vigil was also held in the days after her death at the spot where her body was found in Royal Park.

Mr Hammond was remanded until the next court hearing on September 14.

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