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By court reporter Emma Younger
Posted Monday 29 April 2019 at 1:24am, updated Monday 29 April 2019 at 3:28am
Daniel Eckersley is led from the prison van into court.
The court heard Daniel Eckersley had sought medical help for depression before the murder. (ABC News)
A Melbourne man stabbed his partner to death in front of their young children was suffering a medication-induced psychosis and believed she was trying to poison him, a court has heard.
Daniel Eckersley murdered his partner, Amanda Harris, before setting fire to their family home
The prosecution told a court Eckersley had displayed “controlling behaviours” during their 17-year relationship
The defence said it was a “nasty example of domestic murder” but Eckersley believed Ms Harris was poisoning him
Daniel Eckersley, 39, used a kitchen knife to murder the mother of his children, Amanda Harris, in their Cranbourne North home in July 2018.
He then set fire to the property.
He grabbed the couple’s children and put them in his car before fleeing the property to dispose of his clothing.
A neighbour noticed smoke coming from the house and dragged Ms Harris onto the patio as he waited for firefighters to arrive.
But the 36-year-old had already died from a stab wound to her chest.
Two of the couple’s children witnessed the fatal assault after an argument between Ms Harris and Eckersley, who had been using a hammer to smash items in their kitchen after emptying the cupboards and fridge.
The court heard he was experiencing a medication-induced psychosis and deludedly believed Ms Harris was trying to poison him and that the kitchen was contaminated.
One of the children tried to grab Eckersley’s hand to stop him stabbing his mother, the court heard.
Amanda Harris is pictured holding a baby whose face has been blurred.
Amanda Harris sought help from relatives and contacted Eckersley’s sister on social media.(Facebook: Amanda Harris)
Prosecutor Brendan Kissane QC said Eckersley had “exhibited various controlling behaviours” during his 17-year relationship with Ms Harris.
Mr Kissane said Eckersley had sought medical assistance for depression in the week before the murder and began taking anti-depressants on top of pain medication he had been abusing.
Eckersley’s plea hearing in the Victorian Supreme Court heard Ms Harris had sought help from family members including Eckersley’s estranged sister, who she contacted over social media days before her death.
“Your brother needs you, he’s about to have a breakdown, his depression is really bad,” Ms Harris wrote.
“Everything is getting to him.”
The court heard that after murdering Ms Harris, Eckersley told a friend, “I think she was poisoning me and the kids … it’s all got to do with these pills”.
Defence barrister Tim Marsh told the court the case was a “nasty example of domestic murder”, but that Eckersley was suffering delusions at the time caused by a pain medication he had been prescribed 18 months earlier.
“He believed, vividly believed, that he was being poisoned by Ms Harris,” Mr Marsh said.
Psychiatrist Andrew Carroll, who was engaged by the defence, said Eckersley’s psychosis was caused by an extremely rare reaction to the prescription drug Tramadol, which he had been taking in much higher dosages than prescribed.
Ms Harris’ sister, Louise Flynn, told the court she felt cheated and angry that she never got to say goodbye to her sister, whose death was “unbearable”.
“How could the one person who was meant to love her and be a role model to her children take her life away?” Ms Flynn asked.
“I just don’t understand it.”
The hearing before Justice John Champion continues.
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- Daniel Eckersley wept in court as he was sentenced over the killing of his wife in July 2018
- He had been overusing the drug tramadol which led to a psychotic breakdown, the court was told
- The judge said this meant his moral culpability was “significantly reduced”
Daniel Eckersley used a 120-millimetre kitchen knife to kill the mother of his three children, Amanda Harris, in their Cranbourne North home in July 2018.
In sentencing, Justice John Champion called the murder “horrific” and said the “brutal killing” was witnessed by their children.
“You have destroyed your own family. Amanda Harris was a loving mother and partner, and innocent,” he said.
But Justice Champion said there were also mitigating factors that “significantly reduced” the murderer’s “moral culpability”.
During the plea hearing in 2019, the court heard that Eckersley was suffering from a medication-induced psychosis at the time of the killing and believed Ms Harris was trying to poison him.
Rare side effect of tramadol a mitigating factor
Two of the couple’s young children saw Eckersley smashing items in the kitchen with a hammer before he attacked Ms Harris, and one of the children tried to stop the fight.
Eckersley also tried to burn down the house as he fled the scene with his children.
The former baker was using a mixture of medication, drugs and alcohol to deal with a workplace injury and the court heard from medical experts that the overuse of tramadol caused his psychotic breakdown.
Tramadol was prescribed to the 40-year-old by a GP and the court heard that most doctors were not aware of its possible psychological effects.
Justice Champion said the side effects were “rare, but recognised”.
Ms Harris had been in a relationship with Eckersley for 17 years and her parents were in court for the sentencing.
Her mother Christine Harris openly wept during the 90-minute proceedings but shouted in anger when the sentence was delivered.
The maximum sentence for murder is life, and the average sentence is 25 years in prison.
Eckersley also wept during the sentencing.
He will be eligible for parole in 14 years.
Justice Champion said he would forward his findings to the coroner’s office to examine whether GPs should be made more aware about the rare side effects of tramadol.