Rita Camilleri didn’t think her daughter would harm anyone, court told1st December 2020
The court heard police found Mrs Camilleri’s decapitated body in the kitchen of the blood-stained home, after Jessica carried her head outside and dropped it on the footpath about 11.30pm.
It also heard there will be no argument over the fact that Jessica violently killed her mother – the question for the jury is whether she suffered a substantial mental impairment that rendered her unable to control her actions, which would reduce the charge to manslaughter.
Ms Camilleri’s defence barrister Nathan Steel told the jury they would hear from forensic psychiatrists who agreed his client was “substantially impaired” by long-standing mental illness.
“We are at the very early stages of this trial,” he said, asking the jury to “keep an open mind” and avoid jumping to conclusions. “As hard as it may be… put emotions, prejudice and sympathy to one side.”
Crown Prosecutor Tony McCarthy told the court Jessica told police in a recorded interview that her mother wanted to send her to the mental health unit of Nepean Hospital, told her “I’ve had a gutful”, grabbed her by the hair and threatened her with a knife. She told police she then took the weapon and began stabbing her mother “in a rage like I’ve never seen before”, Mr McCarthy told the court.
He said Jessica told police her mother had beaten her up before. But in testimony to the court on Tuesday afternoon, her sister Kristy Torrisi and family friend Jade Arena drew a different picture.
Ms Arena, who went to school with Jessica’s sister Kristy Torrisi and was a close friend and neighbour, said the girls’ mother didn’t like to upset Jessica and described the 57-year-old’s relationship to her daughter as “submissive”.
She said Jessica was “extremely demanding” and would tell her mother to “shut up” on occasions but that Rita “always protected Jessica and always stuck up for her”.
Ms Arena said she was “quite friendly” to Jessica, who would confide in her and let her do her hair, “but it got overwhelming”.
After Jessica spent some time in a hospital mental health unit, Ms Arena said she told her “she would rather kill somebody than go back to a place like that”.
She said she told Rita “I was worried she was going to murder somebody” from some of the questions she was asking, but Mrs Camilleri did not believe it.
Kristy Torrisi told the court she had never seen her mother behave violently. Rather, Rita Camilleri “would let Jessica off the hook” and “would give in to demands” from her daughter.
But she said Rita did try to intervene with some of Jessica’s problematic behaviour, including obsessively watching horror movies and harassing random strangers with “prank” calls.
Ms Torrisi said her sister’s favourite movies were The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jeepers Creepers – which Mr McCarthy described as involving “killing people very violently and dismembering their bodies”. Jessica would “pause and rewind them at certain parts”, Ms Torrisi said.
The court heard that, on the day before Rita was killed, she took Jessica to St Marys Police Station after she called an unknown man 35 times, waking him up, and eventually telling him she hoped he got cancer and died.
Senior Constable Ayley Ross told the court she spoke to Jessica about the calls and told her to stop.
“Both parties appeared to be calm and collected. Jessica did not make any threats… I did not believe she was at risk of harming herself or other people,” she said.
The trial continues.
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Jenny Noyes is a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald.