Twenty-five-year-old Jessica Camilleri lived in the St. Clair community of western Sydney, Australia, with her 57-year-old mother, Rita Camilleri. On July 19, 2019, the pair got into an argument that ended with Jessica decapitating her mother in front of a four-year-old boy present in the home.
The young boy was Jessica’s nephew. Rita had been babysitting for her sister when the incident occurred. He is believed to have witnessed the events that took place and was also injured in the altercation, suffering a minor head injury. He was treated and released at Westmead Children’s Hospital. Camilleri was later arrested in the front yard of their neighbor’s house and charged with murder.
According to Nepean Police Area Commander Detective Superintendent Inspector (CDSI) Brett McFadden, the scene was one of the “most significant, most horrific scenes police have had to face.”
In her first appearance in court after the murder, Camilleri stated that she was unable to properly move her fingers to remove the blood from them after the attack. Her attorney indicated that Camilleri had multiple mental health concerns and didn’t request bail. She was ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation before her next court date.
Jessica stood accused of stabbing her mother more than 100 times and gouging out her eyes after flying into a fit of rage as the two argued. She then took her mother’s decapitated head outside and set it down on the sidewalk. Neighbors contacted the police to come to the scene. Jessica did not attempt to flee, instead waiting for them to arrive. Included in a report from 7News, is audio of Jessica speaking to first responders:
During the trial, it was revealed that Jessica had asked officers reporting to the scene whether doctors would be able to sew her mother’s head back on. When an officer told her that “was a bit of a stretch,” she then asked:
“So, there’s nothing that can be done to bring her back?”
Court testimony revealed that Jessica had suffered from behavioral, social, and learning disabilities, including ADHD, since childhood. After the attack, she was also diagnosed with multiple psychological impairments, including autism spectrum disorder, intermittent rage disorder, and anxiety.
Jessica had a history of violently attacking people, including strangers and relatives. Rita was designated as Jessica’s caregiver but dismissed Jessica’s increasingly alarming behavior before the attack to protect her daughter. Jessica had stopped taking her medications at least three months before the attack in favor of attempting more natural remedies.
In an interview with detectives on the night of the murder, Jessica said that she had gotten into an argument with her mother about entering residential mental health care. She said that her mother had attempted to dial Triple Zero for them to take her and Jessica knocked the phone out of her hands. Her mother then attempted to locate another phone in the house. Jessica claimed that when her mother failed to find another phone, she grew enraged and grabbed hold of her hair, dragging her to the kitchen.
According to Jessica, she then grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed her mother. Rita was alive long enough to sustain over 90 defensive wounds as her daughter continued to retrieve knives to stab her. Before the assault ended, Jessica had employed seven different knives, breaking off four of them due to the force of her attack. She focused on her mother’s head and face, leaving behind more than 100 knife wounds. When it ended, she removed her mother’s eyes and took her dismembered head outside, where she placed it on the sidewalk.
The prosecution in the case contended that Jessica’s love of horror movies contributed to the deranged thought process that led to her mother’s stabbing and beheading. Detectives had found eight copies of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and five copies of Jeepers Creepers when they searched the home after the attack. This claim was backed up by two psychiatrists who reported that the knife attack resulted from intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder with an unnatural fixation on graphic horror movies.
This assessment of Jessica’s characteristics stood in stark contrast to the distraught woman awaiting her fate in the courtroom. As she waited for the verdict to be handed down, Jessica seemed in danger of hyperventilating. The corrections officers that had escorted her to court had to soothe her and tell her to breathe.
In her victim impact statement, Jessica’s older sister Kristi Torrisi said that the family had tried repeatedly to get help for Jessica’s behavior but that she had refused to go for any treatments offered. Meanwhile, Jessica began exhibiting an increasing tendency toward violent outbursts.
In the months before the attack, Jessica had attacked her aunt, pulled people’s hair in public, and made hundreds of threatening phone calls to strangers. She had been charged with several of the crimes but her mother had intervened as much as possible to lessen any action taken against her. Kristi told the court that their mother had believed that she could love and protect Jessica without having to jail or institutionalize her. Despite her mother’s great love for her, Kristi says that Jessica “killed and butchered her like she was nothing, all because of a fit of rage.”
Rita’s sister, Mary Hill, said that Rita had shown unconditional love for her daughter despite her troubled history which was nothing short of “remarkable.” Mary said that it was this type of hope that Rita had possessed for her daughter that had blinded her to the increasing amount of danger Jessica posed to herself and others.
In December 2020, Jessica was found not guilty of murder due to mental impairment. Her defense claimed she had substantial impairment by abnormality of the mind due to a loss of control. Instead, she was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. She was sentenced to 21 years and 7 months behind bars with credit given for time served from July 20, 2019. She will be eligible for parole in 16 years and 2 months.
Jessica has since appealed the sentence, her lawyer claiming that her crime had been “held against her” by Judge Wilson during sentencing. Her lawyer argues that her “loss of control” during the attack was not given full consideration.
While handing down the sentence, Justice Wilson had acknowledged the need to balance a need for punishment with sentencing a “significantly disabled offender.” Despite Jessica’s loss of control, the judge said that she still understood that was she was doing was wrong.
“The offender’s disabilities are such as to attract sympathy; her conduct is such as to attract the strongest condemnation and punishment. In light of the extreme gravity of this crime, the very great harm done, and the need to protect the community from the offender, a stern sentence is called for.”
In September 2022, Jessica’s appeals attorney, Tim Game SC, told a court that his client’s disabilities border on mental illness, and that was not reflected in her sentence. Game said that Justice Wilson had made a mistake in focusing on whether Jessica understood her actions instead of accepting the testimony of the two psychologists who determined that she had experienced a “loss of control for the duration of the attack.”
Though Game agrees that Jessica did understand that what she had done was wrong, he claims that the judge essentially said, “you’re very lucky you’ve got manslaughter” and then held the fact that she’d been found guilty of lesser charges against her. He said that Jessica should have even been given further consideration in sentencing because she had offered to plead guilty to manslaughter before trial and been denied that option
Attorney Game further points out that there has been a marked improvement in Jessica’s recent conduct after being moved to a new prison. However, before that change, Jessica had a number of violent encounters as cataloged in an article printed by the New Zealand Herald. Whether her improved behavior is due to a true change in behavior or a result of preventative measures is currently unclear.
Crown prosecution has continued to argue against the appeal, claiming that Justice Wilson had every right to impose a heavy sentence given the gravity of the crime. They say that, if anything, Jessica’s disability had benefited her in sentencing, as it was likely all that prevented her from getting the maximum term allowed. They point to a line in the final judgment that says:
“As I observed at the outset, this is as serious an example of manslaughter as it is possible for such a crime to be.”
It remains to be seen how the court will rule. They have reserved their decision and will hand it down when they have finished weighing the merits of the appeal but it could be decided before the end of the year. Even if her sentence is further reduced or even overturned, she has incurred additional charges for attacks against other inmates while incarcerated that will likely prevent any immediate release. See more details here.
The one clear thing is that Jessica Camilleri will continue to be a danger to society if not monitored closely once released. Her family has indicated that none of them are willing to forgive her for her actions and will not be taking her in when she is released. The one person willing to help Jessica lost her life to her daughter’s mental illness. So, it remains to be seen how Jessica can be safely released when and if the time comes.
Sources: ABC, New Zealand Herald, 7News, The West, Twisted Minds