Guilty: Simon Gittany. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
Simon Gittany is an innocent man. These were the first words I wrote on Wednesday morning, before the judgment in his trial for murder. I was prepared for the worst, and this was going to be my provocative lead.
Gittany was innocent, according to the 17 supporters who arrived at 9.45 am, as a group, then walked the gauntlet of TV cameras and media pack.
Conspicuous among this group of believers was the girlfriend of the accused, Rachelle Louise, a model, who was, as always, in platform stilettos.
Distraught: Simon Gittany's girlfriend Rachelle Louise. Photo: Danielle Smith
Few people beyond this group were confident Gittany was not guilty of throwing his girlfriend, Lisa Harnum, off a 15th floor balcony in 2011. All the journalists I talked to who were covering the trial had concluded he was guilty and that, if it were a jury trial, Gittany would be burnt toast.
But this was not a jury trial. This was a trial by a judge alone, Justice Lucy McCallum. Such is the chasm that has grown between community values and judicial technicality that the conviction rates in trials by jury and trials by judge alone now diverges starkly. Juries are much more likely to convict than judges.
At the outset, Gittany sat alone in the dock, straight-backed, with a faint smile. Harnum's mother, who had flown from Canada with her son, could not last beyond 15 minutes. She stood, shaking her head, and left the gallery. If she had waited to hear the judgment unfold, she would have observed the legal noose tightening around Gittany.
Justice McCallum: ''I do not believe the accused's evidence [about his secret recordings of Harnum's phone]. It was a pretext for an inexcusable breach of trust …''
The judge repeatedly found him to be an unreliable witness: ''It was a lie … I do not accept the accused's evidence on this …''
Her judgment was shaping a narrative of oppression and mental abuse. After 90 minutes, Gittany's faint smile had gone.
''I do not accept the accused's denial [that he made threats to Harnum] … I have no hesitation accepting evidence of … rage … His denials are manifestly implausible … He was controlling and abusive … He was out of control …''
''On the morning of her death, Lisa Harnum was in a state of absolute fear and despair'' while Gittany was in ''a quiet rage''. The judge was building a picture of a victim who was not suicidal but fearful. She also had a plan of escape.
The trail of circumstantial evidence pointing to Gittany's rage and guilt was overwhelming, but ''beyond a reasonable doubt'' is a threshold that, in the courts, almost requires a smoking gun for a conviction. Unfortunately for Gittany, there was a smoking gun, an ABC journalist, Joshua Rathmell, who was walking to work when he saw a bare-chested man throwing something large off the balcony.
Justice McCallum found Rathmell to be a ''careful and compelling'' witness. In contrast, she found Gittany's evidence about what happened on the balcony to be ''glib''. She said there was ''nothing implausible about the argument that Lisa Harnum was rendered unconscious before going over the balcony,'' which was consistent with Rathmell's observation of an inert object being thrown, and consistent with the trajectory of the fall.
She noted the speed and force with which Gittany had pushed Harnum back into the apartment, captured on his own pin-hole camera, which meant he could easily have rendered her unconscious and thus much easier to throw. She further noted that camera evidence supported Rathmell's observation of a bare-chested man ''unloading'' a large dark object over the balcony. Gittany was bare-chested at that moment.
After Harnum had fallen 15 floors, breaking her back, all her ribs and a leg, and lay dead, Gittany exhibited grief, but the judge added: ''Anger is not necessarily inconsistent with grief.
''The absence of fingerprints on the balcony is relevant,'' she continued. ''She could not have done what Gittany says without leaving fingerprints.''
She dismissed the argument that Harnum showed suicidal tendencies as ''completely unfounded''. She found the arguments made by the defence that Harnum had taken herself over the balcony to be ''fanciful''.
By now she had been speaking for almost five hours and, at the end, she said Gittany had been in a rage, and lost control of his emotions, when he threw his girlfriend over the balcony to her death. ''I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt he threw Lisa Harnum from the balcony.''
Guilty. Shrieking broke out from Gittany's supporters. Louise started shouting that this was ''wrong''. Gittany turned around and said to her: ''I love you, baby.'' He had called Harnum ''baby'' the day before he killed her.
A thick scrum of media gathered outside the court, waiting for the dramatic, distraught legal widow, Louise. She was immediately engulfed when she emerged, teetering in her shoes.
''Has anyone got a light?'' she asked. ''You're journalists, someone's got to have a lighter.''