Cameron Johnston, 49, died from carbon monoxide toxicity on the evening of July 31, 2020 after T , 28, smashed out the windows of his Bomaderry home in southern NSW and threw petrol inside.
T , who lived nearby, had attended the home twice that evening before he set the fire, shouting abuse and smashing Johnston’s car and the front windows of the house.
Johnston, who was home with his 18-year-old son, called triple zero at 9.03pm and 9.46pm, saying in one of the calls that a “scary” person had “smashed all the windows, nearly” and was shouting “get outside c—.” Both times police arrived, the attacker had already left.
When T attended the home for a third time, at 10.39pm, a panicked Johnston called triple zero again to say the stranger had “chucked petrol through the window”, describing it as a “firebomb” that had lit the entire house on fire.
He said he was trying to hide from the man who set the blaze and didn’t want to go outside because “he’ll kill us”, urging emergency services to hurry.
As an operator urged Johnston to leave the house, he asked how far away the police were. He started to cough and was soon overcome by smoke and no longer able to speak. His son managed to escape the fire with the family dog.
A neighbour told a judge-alone trial in the NSW Supreme Court that he heard Johnston’s son shouting “dad, dad, dad” while T laughed, sounded almost excited, and yelled “burn c— burn”.
When emergency services arrived, Johnston was found unconscious inside the home with serious burns and could not be revived. A medical examiner later determined he died from carbon monoxide toxicity.
In a judgment on Friday, Justice Michael Walton found T was not criminally responsible for his actions that evening due to experiencing a psychotic episode. He recorded a verdict of “act proven but not criminally responsible”.
Justice Walton cited the evidence of two forensic psychologists who detailed that T had “global disturbances” in his thoughts and was not aware at the time he lit the fire that his actions were wrong.
He said T had a “severe” psychotic disorder which had been diagnosed as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or depression with psychotic features. The disorder resulted in delusions of persecution and auditory hallucinations.
T told psychiatrists he had smoked ice that day and believed Johnston was a paedophile who had tried to run him over. He said he heard a voice telling him to harm Johnston, and believed he heard Johnston call him a “wanker” shortly before the incident.
In a letter to his mother, T said: “I burned his car and then I thought f— this c— so I burnt the house, I started at the front room then went one window by window so I new [sic] he was dead he is a paedophile … now you know whats its like in the eyes of a killer.”
Justice Walton said he was satisfied that T knew the nature and quality of what he was doing, but was not able to reason that his actions were wrong.
“The Court finds the act proven but the accused not criminally responsible for it,” he said.