An ex-convict who set his landlord on fire then repeatedly slashed her throat, later telling psychologists he thought she was either a witch or a vampire, has been found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.
Damien Charles Chandler expressed no outward emotion throughout the hearing at the Auckland High Court, during which Tania Hadley's family filled many of the seats in the courtroom's gallery behind him. Some of the seats slowly began to empty, however, as people marched or were escorted out following frequent outbursts — including calling him a "gutless pig" and a "mongrel".
Chandler was 29 in May 2020 when he was arrested in Auckland for the death of Hadley, who was doused in petrol and set afire in her Mt Roskill driveway as she got into her car to go to work.
Neighbours rushed out to assist, pouring water on her after petrol was poured on her a second time. But after she was able to stand, Chandler came back outside with a knife, held her by the hair and attacked again, according to a summary of facts read aloud at the hearing.
The fatal attack was recorded by a neighbour's CCTV security system.
As a result of Justice Geoffrey Venning's insanity finding, Chandler will now be held as a special patient at a secure mental health facility. After the 10-year period, he could still remain in a treatment facility but would undergo more frequent assessments.
Outside the courthouse today, Hadley's family said it was the outcome they were hoping for. They're optimistic he won't ever be released.
"This is what needs to happen," said her son, Deon Hadley, who wore a lapel pin with his mum's image as his sister clutched a larger, framed version of the photo to her chest. "This guy will never walk the streets again and will no longer be able to harm."
He described his mother as a hard-working woman who "dedicated her life to her career and her children".
"She was generous with love, and she was taken way too soon," he said.
His opinion of Chandler was made clear in court.
"You're a piece of s***," he yelled before leaving the courtroom as some of the most graphic details were read aloud. "How gutless can you be, you mongrel?"
He later apologised outside the courthouse for having lost his cool.
Two psychiatrists briefly testified at the hearing, as well as filing reports to the court. They determined Chandler was suffering schizophrenia at the time of the attack, which was likely exacerbated by his regular use of methamphetamine. He believed voices from the television were giving him commands, they said.
Chandler was put on anti-psychotic medications in 2015, after being diagnosed with schizophrenia while serving a prison sentence for another violent crime, Dr Jeremy Skipworth testified. But he stopped taking the medication shortly after his release, Skipworth said.
Dr Ian Goodwin said Chandler's "relapses of psychosis are difficult to treat", explaining that he had no improvement of his mental state from the time of the attack until January of this year. It's "highly, highly unlikely" he feigned symptoms to fool them, Goodwin added, explaining that Chandler has been kept at an acute mental health unit where his "every move is observed".
Crown prosecutors Brian Dickey and Dennis Dow were in agreement with defence lawyer Lynn Hughes ahead of the hearing that Chandler should be deemed not guilty by reason of insanity. But Justice Venning had the last say.
Chandler and Tania Hadley appeared to have an amicable relationship prior to the attack, the judge pointed out.
"He believed [at the time of the attack] the victim was out to get him and was trying to control him," he added. "I am satisfied ... he was unable to know his actions were wrong."
He described Chandler as having schizophrenia that "seems to be resistant to treatment" and pointed out that he was unmedicated at the time of the attack.
"That indicates an inability on his part to manage his mental illness," Justice Venning said.
"The extreme violence itself ... indicates a need for the public to be protected."