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Texting, terrorising ex who repeatedly breached family violence order dies in prison

Date

Steve Butcher

EXCLUSIVE

A man who terrorised his partner in hundreds of offensive text messages has died in prison – just before he was to be sentenced under a Victorian law recently toughened for repeated breaches of family violence orders.

Dean Courts, 33, bombarded the woman with about 300 abusive, belittling and threatening text attacks of an ‘‘extreme nature’’ during a month-long rant that continuously breached a court order he not contact her.

Courts sent the victim the text messages over a 28-day period from April 22 last year, which prosecutor Damien Hannan summarised in more than 100 of the most serious examples.

The hearing in June in Melbourne’s County Court is believed to be only the second time the Director of Public Prosecutions has taken over such a case from the magistrates court jurisdiction and presented it to a judge on indictment for the charge of ‘‘persistently contravening’’ a family violence protection order.

It is understood the DPP, following the 2013 amendments to the Family Violence Protection act, will uplift the most serious examples of such offending to the County Court.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment.

Mr Hannan said while it was conceded the couple had had some sort of relationship during the order, the prolonged and repetitive offences ‘‘terrorised this victim’’ and ‘‘must have had the most profound effect upon her’’.

Courts died on July 5 on remand in Port Phillip Prison of a suspected heart attack, two weeks before Judge Claire Quin was due to sentence him.

In a legal first, when he pleaded guilty in June to nine charges, the count of persistently contravening a family violence protection order was particularised by Judge Quin’s associate in 15 separate representations during his arraignment.

Courts, unemployed, formerly of Campbellfield, also pleaded guilty to three charges of intentionally causing injury to the woman and to stalking her and criminal damage.

The court heard the couple met in 2007 and soon began an intimate relationship which the woman – who Fairfax Media has chosen not to name – described as a violent and abusive one ‘‘ever since we have been together’’.

When an intervention order she obtained in 2010 lapsed, the pair remained ‘‘on and off’’ until she was granted a final order in January, 2013, which prohibited Courts from making any contact with her until the following December.

Mr Hannan said Courts had injured her on November 25, 2012, when he smashed plastic drawers onto her head, then punched and injured her again the next day before assaulting her in early January last year.

Mr Hannan said she was then granted a full intervention order on January 31, after an application by police.

Judge Quin heard Courts first texted the woman in 14 messages that began: ‘‘I’m coming for u hahahahahahaha Nowhere to run no where to hide I’m a coming U Telly tubby.’’

Mr Hannan then detailed the further text messages sent until May 20 to support the charge of persistent contravention which ‘‘demonstrates a disregard for the law’’.

The texts, he explained, constituted conduct relevant to the stalking charge that included five letters he wrote her from prison that contained no direct threats and which ‘‘to varying degrees declare an undying love for [her] in the hope of reconciliation’’.

But Mr Hannan argued that Courts ought to have known the ‘‘manipulative’’ letters would have had the effect of rousing fear and, rather than demonstrate his remorse, they indicated the ‘‘erratic nature’’ of his behaviour.

‘‘The hundreds of messages, unanswered calls, text messages and letters received by [her] over the period has caused her to fear that she would be killed or assaulted despite having had a full intervention order against [Courts],’’ he said.

The woman, he said, had not provided a victim impact statement and that when last contacted by police she indicated she wanted to be ‘‘done with it all [and] forget about it and move on’’.

Defence lawyer Michael Fitzgerald conceded the victim would have undergone ‘‘considerable distress’’ from the conduct that had involved crass, derogatory, abusive and threatening messages ‘‘of an extreme nature’’.

Mr Fitzgerald also accepted that deterrence and denunciation were important in sentencing for breaches of family violence matters.

But he submitted there was some evidence of a ‘‘continuing relationship’’ between the pair after the order was issued, there were ‘‘inferences available’’ from the absence of a victim impact statement and that the letters indicated Courts’ ‘‘considerable degree of remorse’’ and insight into the effects of his offending.

Mr Fitzgerald characterised the couples’ relationship, lived at an isolated rural property, as ‘‘embittered and dysfunctional’’ in 2010, with shared ‘‘ice’’ usage.

Courts was later diagnosed with depression and anxiety from issues that included the death of a friend.

The woman took some messages ‘‘with a grain of salt’’, he said, as the ‘‘bitter end’’ of their relationship from late April, 2013.

In his sentencing submissions, Mr Hannan said Courts’ criminal history, which included numerous breaches of court orders, showed he had "no ability to comply with authority or rules’’.

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