Mother's murder trial torment

Last updated 18:53 28/11/2013
Gittany
LISA HARNUM: Thrown to her death.
Gittany
Fairfax
SIMON GITTANY: Guilty of murdering his fiancee, Lisa Harnum.

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Joan Harnum wanted to scream as she sat inside a courtroom metres away from her daughter's killer.

Two court “groupies” sat next to her and started talking about her daughter's eating disorder and speculated about whether she had breast implants.

She felt frustrated she was not able to give her daughter, Lisa Cecilia Harnum, a voice during Simon Gittany's murder trial.

“[They said] I can't believes she weighs 50 kilos and she has boobs like that, obviously they are fake,” Ms Harnum recalled.

“And I'm there going, 'I'm the mother, I'm sitting right here.'”

After a month-long trial, Gittany was convicted of killing his Canadian fiancee by throwing her off the 15th floor balcony of their luxury apartment in Sydney.

The hardest thing for the Harnum family was not being able to defend their daughter.

She was the victim of an abusive and controlling relationship and the worst side of her was aired for all to see.

At times, Ms Harnum had to walk out of the NSW Supreme Court to stop herself from jumping up and saying something.

“I think what bothered me was that we're not allowed as the family of Lisa … to give Lisa a face and a voice to say 'this is who we are talking about'.”

It was unbearable to hear the defence paint her as a suicidal, unstable woman with an eating disorder.

“She struggled, we all know that, with her eating disorder. She had long periods where she wasn't affected by it [but] she fought, she fought it all the time.

“So for them to keep dragging that down, that really upset me, it really did.”

When defence barrister Philip Strickland, SC, claimed Ms Harnum impulsively jumped out of moving cars, the Harnums had to bite their tongues.

“I'm thinking, seriously? She didn't do it in any instance or she would have been in the hospital."

Joan's sister Elizabeth said she was really rattled when the defence suggested there had been no struggle between Gittany and Ms Harnum because of the absence of scratch marks and bruises.

“He was much bigger than her, she was tiny and at that point even I just felt like jumping up and saying 'there was a struggle, it's on video, it's all over the world, there was a physical struggle,'” Elizabeth said.

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When Ms Harnum returned home to Canada in 2010, her family started to worry.

“You could see a difference in her and she was just trying to fight through.”

Even though it was hard for her, she watched her daughter fly back to the man who would eventually kill her.

“Lisa and I were very close. We kind of talked about it. I didn't want her to go back but she wanted to.”

The hairdresser returned to Gittany and tried to leave him several times in the seven months before her murder.

The night before Gittany was to learn his fate, Ms Harnum's mother sat crossed-legged on a couch.

She ran her hands over a picture of the former ballerina and pulled out a piece of paper hidden behind the frame.

Her lips quivered as she read: “She adapted to every situation, whether saving a helpless animal, talking and sharing a sandwich with a homeless man or mingling with high society, she chose to find the best in everyone. She always had a beautiful smile and kind words to everyone she met.”

These were the words read at a private memorial service held in Sydney with 14 of Ms Harnum's closest friends – many who had been cut out of her life.

“That's Lisa. It's not who they [the defence] portrayed her as. She was so much more than that. And because of her loving and forgiving nature, she always tried to see the good, even in him [Gittany]."

She said the 30-year-old was a bubbly and driven woman who moved to Australia when she was 24 and put herself through a hairdressing course at Bondi.

The Harnum family have been touched by a school student who wrote an assignment about the case, highlighting the issue of domestic violence.

“[Lisa] has already started changing lives. A schoolgirl did a paper and to us that's so precious that [the] schoolgirl got the message.”

The Harnums have returned home to Canada and said they hoped to set up more support services for the families of victims.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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