CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian judge sentenced a man to 36 years in prison on Tuesday for the murder and rape of an Israeli student whom he bludgeoned into unconsciousness moments after she stepped off a tram in Melbourne before setting her corpse on fire.
Victoria state Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth ordered Codey Herrmann, 21, to serve at least 30 years behind bars for his crimes against 21-year-old Aiia Maasarwe last January.
The judge said she would have sentenced Herrmann to 40 years in prison with 35 years to be served before he became eligible for parole if he had not pleaded guilty in the face of an overwhelming prosecution case.
“Women should be free to walk the streets alone without fear of being violently attacked by a stranger,” Hollingworth said. “She had no opportunity to flee or escape.”
The victim had been studying at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, for the previous five months as an exchange student from Shanghai University in China.
She was on her way home from a comedy club to her student accommodation on the campus when she was attacked shortly after stepping off a tram after midnight.
Maasarwe was speaking by phone to her sister Ruba in Israel when Herrmann struck. The sister heard Maasarwe swear in Arabic and four of Herrmann’s blows to her head with a metal pipe.
Maasarwe’s relatives sobbed in the courtroom gallery on Tuesday as the judge recounted details of the killing.
“It was a savage attack with a crude but effective weapon which immediately rendered her unconscious,” the judge said, noting that Maasarwe had been alone, small in stature and unsuspecting.
Herrmann said his victim was already dead before he dragged her behind a hedge and raped her.
He then sprayed her body with an aerosol can of flammable solvent and set her body on fire to destroy evidence, which “showed utter contempt of her dignity,” the judge said.
Herrmann faced a potential maximum penalty of life imprisonment for murder, while rape carries a potential maximum of 25 years.
Prosecutors had applied for the killer to be imprisoned for life. But Herrmann’s lawyer Tim Marsh told the court that his client deserved some leniency because he had a personality disorder stemming from a severely traumatic childhood that had warped his view of the world.
Herrmann had been homeless and attempted suicide a month before the murder.
“It seems you have limited insight and do not yet accept the full gravity of what you have done,” the judge said.