An Australian who threw his Canadian girlfriend off the balcony of their high-rise Sydney apartment in a crime that captivated the nation has been sentenced to 26 years in jail.
Simon Gittany was convicted of hurling his fiancee, former ballerina Lisa Harnum, from their 15th floor home in a fit of rage in July 2011 after discovering that she planned to leave him.
The 40-year-old, who was steadfastly supported in court by his new girlfriend, maintained his innocence throughout the trial, claiming a suicidal Harnum, 30, slipped and fell after climbing over a railing.
But he was found guilty late last year and yesterday sentenced to a maximum 26 years and a minimum 18 years, with Justice Lucy McCallum saying he had shown no remorse and had little prospect of rehabilitation.
During his trial, the court heard Gittany was controlling, had installed CCTV cameras inside the apartment and used a computer programme to monitor Harnum’s text messages and emails.
One of the cameras showed him restraining Harnum outside their home and then dragging her back inside on the night she died. Harnum was heard yelling: “Please help me, help me, God help me.”
When the sentence was announced, a member of Gittany’s family in the public gallery was removed from court after yelling: “In the name of Jesus Christ, he won’t do any of that time.”
Reporters said another woman celebrated when the sentence was handed down, shouting “Off the balcony you go” to Gittany.
His current girlfriend Rachelle Louise, who has fiercely defended Gittany, was noticeably absent for the sentencing. Reports said she had signed a lucrative deal with commercial network Channel Seven to tell her side of the story.
Gittany’s solicitor Abigail Bannister said her client would appeal.
Supreme Court Judge Lucy McCallum took aim at 40-year-old Gittany’s “flamboyant” and attention-seeking relationship with new girlfriend Rachelle Louise who bears a strong resemblance to her boyfriend’s murdered fiancee.
Justice McCallum said Gittany’s relationship with Ms Louise had been conducted “very much in the public eye” and in the knowledge that she could be an important witness to his character.
She said Gittany encouraged Ms Louise’s paid television appearances because he thought the publicity would help his case.
“He was asked whether he agreed that her appearance would merely encourage media attention to his case,” she said.
“He replied ‘that is the whole point of it’.
A number of character references were tendered as part of Gittany’s sentencing submission.
But Justice McCallum said they made no references to Gittany’s crimes, including his 1994 attack on a policeman in which he bit the officer’s ear.
“I appreciate that the offence was committed almost 20 years ago, but it has a troubling resonance with the present offence,” she said. Each appears to have entailed a sudden loss of control and a response of extreme violence to a blameless act. Each involves a form of violence that is shocking and unequivocal.”
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