Gittany guilty of murder
Remarkable scenes unfold outside a Sydney court on Wednesday after Simon Gittany was found guilty of throwing his fiancee Lisa Harnum off a balcony in July 2011.PT1M54S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2ya55 620 349 November 27, 2013
Sydney businessman Simon Gittany has been found guilty of murdering his fiancee, former ballerina Lisa Harnum, by throwing her off the balcony of their upmarket inner-city apartment.
More than two years after Ms Harnum, 30, plunged to her death from the 15th floor of The Hyde luxury apartments on the morning of July 30, 2011, NSW Supreme Court judge Justice Lucy McCallum has rejected Gittany's claims of innocence, finding that he killed the woman in a "fit of rage".
His account of what happened appeared to exist on borrowed detail. It lacked originality and the subtlety of actual experience
"I'm confident to the point of actual persuasion that he maintained his rage, carried her over to the balcony and then dropped her over," Justice McCallum said.
Guilty: Simon Gittany with his girlfriend, Rachelle Louise. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
Gittany's girlfriend Rachelle Louise screamed as the court was told the verdict.
"You're wrong!" she shouted.
"What are you going to do? Put my hand over my mouth?" she screamed as Corrective Services officers tried to escort her out of the court room.
After the verdict: Simon Gittany's girlfriend, Rachelle Louise, at the NSW Supreme Court. Photo: Danielle Smith
Gittany barely moved as Justice McCallum said she was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he had murdered Ms Harnum.
Ms Louise's screams could be heard for several minutes outside the court.
She then went up to a waiting media pack and asked if anyone had a lighter.
Lisa Harnum's mother, Joan Harnum, carries a doll, believed to have belonged to her daughter, at the NSW Supreme Court as the judge hands down her decision in the murder trial of Simon Gittany. Photo: Peter Rae
She lit a cigarette and smoked in silence for about three minutes as journalists continued to ask her how she felt.
Back inside the court, Ms Harnum's aunt, Elizabeth, put her hands over her face and cried.
Ms Harnum's brother Jason shook the hands of the detectives who had been working on the case for the past two-and-a-half years.
Gittany's girlfriend, Rachelle Louise, at the NSW Supreme Court. Photo: Danielle Smith
Mr Gittany's sister Barbara blew a kiss to her brother and said: "God bless you Simon".
Another Gittany family member yelled out: "You didn't get a fair trial, brother."
Meanwhile, there was a plea for an ambulance to come to the court. "Call an ambulance for mum, she is in so much shock," one of the Gittany clan screamed.
Died: Lisa Harnum. Photo: Supplied
When Ms Louise returned to the court, Gittany was taken down to the cells.
"I love you Simon," she said, crying.
"It's OK baby," Gittany replied before disappearing from view.
Speaking outside court, Ms Harnum's mother Joan told reporters: "There are no winners in this case. Two families have had their lives dramatically changed forever."
She added: "We will always mourn the loss of our beautiful Lisa Cecilia and are working towards making her legacy a powerful wake-up call to young women.
"My daughter used to say people can ask for help but children and animals cannot.
"And now young women who are caught up in situations like my daughter found herself in need a voice as well."
Joan Harnum said her daughter’s favourite saying was "families are forever".
"Please go home and hug your kids and hug your wife and husband and make it families forever for everyone," she said.
Damning assessment of Gittany's character
The decision ends months of speculation about the death of Ms Harnum, who came to Australia from Canada and wanted desperately to make a life here.
In her summing up, Justice McCallum said she did not believe Gittany's account of how Ms Harnum fell to her death.
Justice McCallum gave a damning assessment of Gittany's character.
"There can be no doubt the accused was controlling, dominating and at times abusive of Ms Harnum," she told the packed Supreme Court in Sydney on Wednesday.
"The force of his jealous and controlling personality met mixed reaction from Ms Harmum, who was at times defiant and at times submissive to an inexplicable degree.
"By the end of July 2011, these tensions had reached a point of crisis.
"By 6am on the morning of her death, Ms Harnum was "in a state of absolute fear and despair", Justice McCallum said.
Justice McCallum found Gittany reacted with "nothing short of rage" when he discovered Ms Harnum had secretly put some of her possessions in storage.
"For all his vigilance, his errant fiancee had found a way to secretly remove her belongings," the judge said.
She said she accepted Ms Harnum's mother's evidence that in their last ever phone conversation, Ms Harnum was "frantic", fearful and told her mother to contact her counsellor "if something happens to me".
Justice McCallum said she did not believe Mr Gittany's account of how Ms Harnum fell to her death.
"It's difficult to articulate my impression of that evidence except that I found him unconvincing," she said.
After dragging Ms Harnum screaming back into the apartment, Mr Gittany said she sat on the lounge while he went to make a cup of tea before she suddenly ran for the balcony.
'Accused struck me as being a person playing a role'
"At many times in his evidence, the accused struck me as being a person playing a role, telling a story which fitted with the objective evidence but which did no more than that," Justice McCallum said.
"His account of what happened appeared to exist on borrowed detail.
"It lacked originality and the subtlety of actual experience."
The defence had argued Ms Harnum climbed over balcony after Mr Gittany dragged her inside their unit.
But a forensic specialist failed to find her fingerprints on the railing or glass balustrade.
Justice McCallum told the court the lack of fingerprints was a "relevant piece of evidence".
In handing down her judgment on Wednesday, Justice McCallum said the Crown's crucial witness Josh Rathmell had given a "careful and compelling account" of what he saw on the day of Ms Harnum's death.
She said she was not troubled by the fact that the ABC employee continued to make his way to work after he had seen Gittany "unload" what he thought was a piece of luggage and then later realised was a body.
She said that the defence had compelled her to find the accused not guilty if she had any doubt about his account of what he had seen.
She said she had no doubt Gittany and Ms Harnum loved each other but said that was not the complete picture.
"I do not think there can be any doubt that the accused was controlling, dominating and at times abusive," she said. "I am satisfied by the end of July 2011, those tensions had reached a point of crisis."
Justice McCallum rejected the notion that Gittany monitored Ms Harnum's phone for the purpose of trying to find out her "closely guarded secret".
"This was a pretext put forward by the accused in order to excuse what was an inexcusable breach of trust," Justice McCallum said.
Justice McCallum said she had no doubt that, by the end of the relationship, Gittany was using CCTV cameras installed in the apartment to observe Ms Harnum.
She said Gittany lied about an argument in which he called Ms Harnum a "peacock".
Gittany claimed Ms Harnum wanted him to buy her an expensive dress, but Justice McCallum said she was satisfied he "berated Lisa Harnum for coming home looking beautiful with her hair down".
"It was one of a number of occasions I had the impression he was giving a distorted version of the truth," Justice McCallum said.
She found Gittany did this to give a different impression or "just to denigrate Ms Harnum".
She found he also lied about knowing Ms Harnum had a Westpac bank account.
"It was a lie told with telling ease for the sole purpose of discrediting Ms Harnum," she said.
Importantly, she also rejected the defence claim that Ms Harnum had tendencies towards suicide or self harm.
"There is no doubt that Lisa Harnum was becoming increasingly fearful for her life, and that she had a history of eating disorders. But I find nothing to support the contention that she was considering taking her own life."
Justice McCallum told the court: "The circumstances of Lisa Harnum's death were shocking and tragic."
The deceased's mother, Joan Harnum, entered the NSW Supreme Court clutching a doll, believed to have belonged to her daughter, and the arm of her sister, Elizabeth.
Her son Jason Harnum followed close behind, wheeling a suitcase.
Shortly after Justice McCallum began outlining the facts of the case, Joan Harnum shook her head and left the court.
Ms Louise, entered the court, flanked by Gittany's and her own family.
She sat in the front row of the gallery, her gaze fixed on the judge, leaving proceedings only briefly to have a cigarette break.
The detectives who worked on the case for the past 2½ years all wore white ribbons, an acknowledgment of domestic violence.
Abusive and controlling behaviour: evidence
The dramatic three-week trial heard evidence that, despite professing his love for Ms Harnum, Gittany had subjected her to months of abusive and controlling behaviour, including keeping her under near-constant surveillance.
Justice McCallum, hearing the trial without a jury, was told that Gittany had convinced the young woman to change her style of dress completely, convert to Catholicism and leave her job at a hairdressing salon because the staff there were "polluting her mind".
He demanded to know where she was at all times, forbidding her from seeing her friends or doing anything that might involve coming into direct contact with other men.
"Please don't let any guy talk to you today … don't look at any guy as your eyes should only gaze on me, the one," Gittany told his fiancee in a text message.
Another text screamed: "Who the f--- do you think you are walking around the house like you own it or coming and going without my permission?"
Gittany monitored Ms Harnum with security cameras hidden in their apartment, and a computer program that tracked her text messages.
The court heard that in the weeks before her death Ms Harnum began planning her escape, leaving a bag of clothes with her counsellor, Michelle Richmond.
"He had said if she left him, she would be deported ... that she would leave with nothing, just as she had come, even her underwear," Ms Richmond told the court.
But Gittany became aware of the secret plan, telling Ms Richmond in an abusive phone call: "I'll f----n harm you.' "
It was the Crown case that, in the hours before her death, Ms Harnum discovered that she was under surveillance and made a desperate attempt to flee.
One of Gittany's own CCTV cameras recorded him grabbing Ms Harnum and, with one hand around her mouth, dragging her back into the apartment as she tried to escape.
Sixty-nine seconds later, she was dead, plunging 15 storeys to the footpath below.
Scrawled on a scrap of paper in her pocket were the words "there are surveillance cameras inside and outside the house".
Mr Rathmell, an ABC News producer, caught a glimpse of the murder as he was walking to work.
He saw a man "unload" what he thought was "luggage" off the 15th-floor balcony, before dashing back inside.
This contradicted Gittany's claim that, far from killing Ms Harnum, she had climbed over the balcony when he confronted her about a "secret" she had refused to divulge and then told her to leave.
"I instantly pushed myself up on to the balcony rail," Gittany told the court.
"I rested my belly button on to the balcony rail and I reached out as far as I could."
He said his attempts to grab hold of Ms Harnum failed and she slipped on to the awning of the balcony below, which springboarded her off the edge.
"I screamed out her name in despair. I kept my eyes on her until she hit the ground," Gittany said.
But after a week of deliberation, Justice McCallum rejected his claims, finding there was sufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that he killed Ms Harnum and then lied about it to police.
Mr Gittany will be sentenced on February 5.
- with AAP