Death fall: Did woman jump or was she pushed?

Simon Gittany (above), with his new girlfriend Rachelle Louise, was allegedly a controlling partner who kept intense surveillance on his fiancee Lisa Harnum and reduced her to a ''mere shell of a person''.

The death of a former ballerina who screamed "Help me - God help me!" before plunging from a luxury apartment in Sydney has led to a gripping murder case that has captivated Australia.

The mystery is whether Ms Lisa Harnum, 30, an aspiring Canadian-born model, fell to her death or was pushed off the balcony by Simon Gittany, 40, her jealous wealthy fiance.

In the month-long trial, the New South Wales Supreme Court heard a sad tale of jealousy, obsession, manipulation and a deeply dysfunctional relationship in the lead-up to Ms Harnum's death at 9.55am on July 30, 2011.

Gittany is accused of being an "insanely jealous" and abusive partner. The trial, which ended on Nov 15 and awaits a verdict, heard he used a computer programme to spy on Ms Harnum's text messages and installed tiny security cameras inside and outside the apartment.

Gittany admitted he was jealous of his beautiful fiancee, but denied killing her in a "fit of apoplectic rage" because she wanted to leave him. Adding to the intrigue, he has arrived in court each day with a new girlfriend, Ms Rachelle Louise, a 24-year-old model who looks strikingly like the dead woman.

The prosecution's case was that Gittany was a controlling partner who kept intense surveillance on his fiancee's every move. And when he found out that she was secretly planning to leave him two days before her death, he flew into a murderous rage.

"He was not satisfied with her having even the tiniest part of her life that he didn't know about or control," the crown prosecutor, Mr Mark Tedeschi QC, told the court.

Ms Harnum's final moments were captured in chilling footage by a hidden pinhole camera outside the apartment. It showed the couple's violent quarrel as Gittany seized her as she tried to leave the apartment.

He dragged her back inside, putting his hand around her mouth as she screamed, "Help me - God help me!"

She tried to pound on the door of a neighbour, who reported later hearing "a single bone-chilling scream".

A minute after this footage was taken, Ms Harnum was dead after falling from the 15th floor of their apartment opposite Hyde Park in the city centre. Her handbag lay beside her on the sidewalk.

A tattered note found inside her pocket said: "There are cameras inside and outside the house."

Further footage seconds later showed a shirtless Gittany leaving the apartment. Appearing distraught, he put his hands on his head and then went back into the apartment. He was later seen in a fresh white T-shirt and descending in the lift to the street to rush to Ms Harnum's lifeless body.

What happened in the moments between these two sets of footage remains unknown.

According to Gittany, after he forced Ms Harnum back inside the flat, she sat calmly on a sofa while he went to make her a hot drink. But she then suddenly ran to the balcony and he tried to grab her as she "just disappeared - let go".

He claimed he had monitored her text and e-mail messages because she had a "secret" she refused to reveal. The defence said Ms Harnum was suffering from bulimia and this may have made her suicidal.

But the prosecution questioned why Ms Harnum would have leapt with her handbag still slung around her shoulder and noted that her fingerprints were not found on the 1.2m-high railing on the balcony.

An eyewitness who was passing by the apartment building during the fatal moment said he saw Gittany unload something over the balcony and presumed it was black luggage. "Of course, it was not a piece of luggage, it was Ms Harnum wearing black clothing," Mr Tedeschi told the court.

The court heard a litany of evidence presenting the relationship as unworkable and a "manipulative union".

In a phone conversation recorded shortly before her death, Ms Harnum cried as she told Gittany: "All day, I don't speak. I have nothing else to do in my life, I don't have anybody else. I don't do anything without checking with you first and getting your permission."

The prosecution said Gittany had stopped Ms Harnum from working as a hairdresser and hired a personal trainer to come to their home because he did not want her seen at a gym.

When she went on a trip to Canada in 2010, he sent her a text saying: "Your eyes should only gaze on me, the one."

Ms Harnum's counsellor, Ms Michelle Redmond, said the relationship had reduced her to a "mere shell of a person".

Justice Lucy McCallum is expected to deliver a verdict this week.

jonathanmpearlman@gmail.com


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