Jessica Camilleri not guilty of murder over decapitation of mother
A woman obsessed with horror movies who used multiple steak knives to stab her mother to death and hack off her head has been found not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter, due to her substantial mental impairment.
The NSW Supreme Court jury deliberated for two days before delivering its verdict Thursday afternoon on the gruesome fatal assault Jessica Camilleri carried out on her mother Rita in their western Sydney home on July 20, 2019.
During the seven-day trial, the court heard disturbing and graphic details of how Camilleri, then 25, attacked her 57-year-old mother with kitchen knives, stabbing her more than 100 times in the neck and head, decapitating her and cutting out her eyeballs, tongue and nose.
Camilleri told police she then took her mother's severed head "in a fit of rage, of panic", and attempted to show it to her neighbour "for evidence" – but it slipped from her hands and landed on the footpath outside the home in St Clair, where she left it for first responders to discover.
Camilleri pleaded not guilty to murder, with her defence counsel arguing her multiple mental illnesses resulted in a significant loss of capacity to control herself.
The court heard that, until her death, Rita Camilleri was the sole, full-time carer of her daughter, who suffers from mental conditions including autism spectrum disorder and an intellectual disability – and who was obsessed with gory horror movies including Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jeepers Creepers.
Camilleri's sister Kristy Torrisi told the court she liked to watch movies where there was killing or dismemberment and "would pause and rewind at certain parts". Ms Torrisi said her sister would "go into somewhat of a frenzy" if the movies were confiscated.
The court also heard that Camilleri had a history of violent outbursts where she would grab people's hair and rip it out by the root; she would also harass strangers with "prank" phone calls in which she would threaten the person on the other end with decapitation.
Although Camilleri told police and triple zero operators that she stabbed her mother "in self-defence", she later told forensic psychiatrist David Greenberg that it was she who first attacked her mother, dragging her "all the way down into the hallway to the kitchen by the hair".
She told him she then grabbed a knife from the kitchen drawer, saying at first she only intended to threaten her mother. But there was a struggle, and Camilleri admitted "I had sick thoughts" and that she "lost it".
"I remember stabbing my mum. I wouldn’t stop. I injured myself. I was getting her everywhere," she told Professor Greenberg, adding that she got the idea to decapitate the 57-year-old "from the movies".
In his closing address, Crown Prosecutor Tony McCarthy said the act of decapitating her mother and removing her eyes, nose and tongue – and her explanation of why she did it – "are evidence the accused was at least at that point operating out of a morbid curiosity with death, dismemberment and decapitation."
Professor Greenberg told the court it was his opinion Camilleri understood what she was doing as she killed her mother, and that it was wrong. However, he said her multiple mental illnesses would have "substantially impaired" her ability to control herself when she flew into a rage after Mrs Camilleri tried to call triple zero to have her taken to the mental health unit at Nepean Hospital.
The court heard that in the lead up to the killing, a number of stressful events had occurred that likely caused a build-up of stress, and her mother's attempt to call an ambulance eventually "triggered" an explosion of rage.
Defence barrister Nathan Steel on Monday told the jury his client "lacked a capacity to control herself due to her underlying abnormality of mind" and she "clearly has a defence of substantial impairment".
He said was said the killing was "a triggered, explosive attack which was very clearly from a complete and utter loss of control".
After the verdict was delivered on Thursday afternoon, Justice Helen Wilson thanked the jurors for their willingness to participate in what she called "a difficult trial".
"The subject matter you have been asked to consider has been extremely confronting," Justice Wilson said, adding that when the jury was being assembled she asked anyone who would be unable to sit through such content to step forward.
"An awful lot of people did," she said.
Camilleri will face a sentencing hearing on February 17.
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Jenny Noyes is a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald.