'How much worse can it get?': Killer told to expect long term

(Photo Mark Jesser/Fairfax Media) Lake Buffalo, Victoria.
Missing Whorouly lady Karen Chetcuti. 
Karen's body was found on a track off Buffalo River Road.
(Photo Mark Jesser/Fairfax Media) Lake Buffalo, Victoria. Missing Whorouly lady Karen Chetcuti. Karen's body was found on a track off Buffalo River Road.

WARNING: The content of this story may be distressing.

A desire to have sex with Karen Chetcuti Verbunt led sadistic rapist Michael Cardamone to kill her just to get his way.

The 50-year-old fronted Wangaratta Supreme Court on Monday where the horrific details of the crimes and his motivations were revealed when he pleaded guilty to the murder in June.

Ms Chetcuti Verbunt died sometime between January 12 and 14 last year after her neighbour Cardamone took her from her home and held her captive in his shed.

She ultimately died when he doused her with petrol and burned her alive near Lake Buffalo, after he had injected her with an animal tranquilizer and fractured her skull.

Crown prosecution Gavin Silbert said Cardamone admitted the murder to a friend in custody.

"All right, all right you know it was me," he was said to tell the prisoner.

"He said he wanted to f--- the woman for a while and he had been trying to build a rapport with her."

The prisoner told police Cardamone admitted he sexually forced himself on Ms Chetcuti Verbunt when he thought she was dead.

Justice Lex Lasry said he could not sentence Cardamone for a sexual attack because it could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

She had been bound and gagged with rope, cable ties and duct tape.

"This was a horrific murder, sadistically executed," Mr Silbert said.

"There is no genuine remorse or contrition submitted by the prisoner."

The lies Cardamone told about a Lebanese crime gang targeting both himself and Ms Chetcuti Verbunt continued until the moment he led police to the Whorouly woman's body.

He called Wangaratta solicitor Geoff Clancy in the days after the murder to claim he had been kidnapped and was in the boot of a car.

Then he told police the gang had been making threatening phone calls and said they would hurt his family before they took her and tied her up.

Cardamone ultimately pinned the blame on Eddie George, the Myrtleford man who helped him burn Ms Chetcuti Verbunt's car under the pretence it was an "insurance job", and he claimed he could only tell police where her body was because he had watched Mr George kill her.

Officers had already located her body which had been left lying naked in the grass.

The body had been injected with battery acid and run over.

Other lies included planting a punnet of cherry tomatoes in Ms Chetcuti Verbunt's fridge to explain why he had called her mobile phone and a claim he had test driven her car because he was looking at a new vehicle for his mother.

Cardamone also pleaded guilty to incitement to murder, after he was caught plotting to kill Mr George - the key witness in the prosecution case - by hiring an undercover police officer posing as a hitman.

Their conversation in prison had been secretly recorded.

Justice Lasry said on the face of the evidence, he would sentence the murderer to life in prison - the question would be if he would set a parole period.

"I have never declined to fix a minimum term, but this is a shocking case," he said.

"How much worse can it get than that?"

Defence barrister Patrick Tehan, QC, asked Justice Lasry to not sentence Cardamone to life without parole because there should be hope of eventual release.

He said his client eventually led police to the victim's body and his guilty plea saved family and friends the pain of long trial, while giving them closure.

"He accepts full responsibility for that great loss and trauma, he accepts full responsibility for the murder of Karen Chetcuti," Mr Tehan said.

The death of her daughter has left Clary Verbunt in a "deep black hole" of despair.

The elderly woman travelled from Melbourne to bravely sit in court on Monday.

She was one of 13 people close to Ms Chetcuti Verbunt to submit a victim impact statement to the court.

"It was the worst day of my life, how could my daughter's life come to this terrible end?" Mrs Verbunt said.

"For all of us, Karen's death is a life sentence.

"I have landed in a black hole, a deep black hole and I wonder if I will ever come out."

When she was first told her daughter was missing, she felt fear and stress, and hoped it was just a horrible mistake.

"I couldn't sleep, I could hardly function," she said.

Now Mrs Verbunt just feels sadness for her grandchildren, the teenage boy and girl left without a mother.

Judge Lasry warned the large group of family and friends in the public gallery the details would be "unpleasant" and some had to leave the courtroom in tears at various times.

The case continues.

graphic

Border Mail

This story 'How much worse can it get?': Killer told to expect long term first appeared on The Age.