"Why should I lose my daughter to some reckless monster? Why should a girl feel unsafe returning from an outing? Where is justice?"
-Kittam Maasarwe, Aiia's mother
It was the 16th of January 2019. A Wednesday. Twenty one year old Aiia Maasarwe met up with friends to go to a "Let's Talk in English" social event and then on to a comedy show in North Melbourne, Australia. Aiia had lived in Australia since August 2018. Aiia, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, was a student of Chinese and English at a University in Shanghai and was in Australia as part of a one-year exchange program with La Trobe University in Bundoora as an international student. The year in Australia was supposed to help with the English aspect of her course.
Aiia loved Australia. She loved exploring new places, trying different things and meeting new people. She also took her studies seriously. Aiia was fluent in Arabic, Hebrew and Mandarin and wanted to use the year wisely to improve her English. While in Australia, she spoke to her parents, Saeed and Kittam, and her sisters, Noor, Ruba and Lena, almost daily and they were making plans to visit her in Australia.
That January night, when the comedy show ended, one of Aiia's friends dropped her off at Bourke Street so that she could get the tram back to the student accommodation at La Trobe University where she was living. Aiia got the tram and got off at her closest stop, which was on Plenty Street, at 12.05am. She crossed the street and walked along Main Drive in Bundoora next to the Polaris Shopping Centre.
Aiia phoned her sister as she walked home. It was something she normally did. She liked to phone someone when walking late at night as it made her feel safer. Her sister Ruba was at home in Isreal and answered. Aiia was surprised due to the time and told her:
"I didn't expect you to pick up."
But almost immediately after that, all Ruba could hear was the sound of her sister screaming and shouting. She heard her say "You piece of shit" in Arabic. Ruba then heard something or someone being hit four times.
Ruba remained on the phone and listened. It sounded like the phone had fallen and she could hear the sound of cars passing but Aiia never got back on the phone and she had no idea what happened to her sister. She was frantic and rang her other sister, who was in China at the time, and they tried to reach Aiia on the phone but there was no answer. They sent her multiple text messages also and received no reply so they reported the incident to the Australian police. By that time, it was around 6am. At around the same time, a passer-by on his way to work, and walking towards the tram saw the body of a young woman behind a hedge. It was Aiia. Her body was found just 100 meters from the tram stop and less than one mile from where she lived.
Police arrived at the scene. Aiia had sustained significant head injuries and there were burn marks on her body. A homicide investigation began immediately and the brutal and horrific murder of an international student drew outrage from people in Australia and around the world. Detective Inspector Andrew Stamper said that Aiia had been the victim of an "absolutely horrendous, horrific attack."
"Our presumption at this stage is that this was a random attack and opportunistic."
Police obtained CCTV footage from the area and spoke to people who were in the area at the time. They also questioned known sex offenders on their whereabouts. Just two days after Aiia's body was found, police made an arrest. Twenty one year old Codey Hermann was arrested and charged with rape and murder. Police identified him via CCTV footage from the Polaris Shopping Centre and from a trail of evidence that was left behind. When he was arrested, Codey said:
“I didn’t kill no one.”
But, before his Trial began, Codey entered a plea of guilty to the charges of rape and murder.
Due to that guilty plea, there was no Trial but Prosecutor Pat Bourke read through details of the attack in Court. It emerged that Aiia had never met Codey before but he had tried to access her apartment complex twice in the six weeks prior to her murder. In December 2018, just four months after Aiia moved to Australia, he tried to gain access into the apartment building and told students there that he had lost his key. That was a lie. He didn't live there and at that time, he was of no fixed abode. He returned a few days later and was observed standing on the grass outside the building.
The Court heard that under the rap name MC Codez, Codey posted lyrics on Facebook about suicide and “demons in my mind.” On another Facebook page under the name Kody Wrex, he wrote “international girl of mystery, you knows who you are” on the 8th of January.
Despite the Facebook message about the international girl of mystery and the two attempts to try to gain access into Aiia's apartment complex, the Court heard that police didn't believe those incidents were connected to Aiia's murder.
The Court heard that when Aiia was at the comedy show with friends, Codey was hanging out at the shopping centre. He left the shopping centre area at 12.07am and cut through the car park which led him to Main Drive, the same street that Aiia was walking down. Codey saw her walking towards him and he hit her four times over the head with a metal pipe. She dropped her phone and fell to the ground. She was unconscious and never regained consciousness. While unconscious, the Court heard that Aiia was dragged by Codey to an area behind a low hedge between the footpath and car park. Codey removed some of her clothing and raped Aiia. He struck her over the head nine more times with the metal pipe after he raped her.
Evidence photo of the metal pipe
Codey dragged Aiia further into the bushes and sprayed WD40 fluid from an aerosol can and used a lighter to set fire to her clothing and body. There were burn marks found on her body.
The Court heard about the injuries Aiia sustained. The blows to her head were struck with such force and ferocity that they caused multiple fractures to her skull and face. There were lacerations on her brain and she died as a result of catastrophic brain injuries. The Court heard that Aiia's neck was injured but it could not be determined whether that was the result of her being strangled or if it happened when she was being dragged into the bushes.
The Court heard that after Codey raped, murdered and tried to get rid of any evidence he may have left behind on Aiia's body by attempting to burn her, he fled, taking Aiia's bag and belongings with him. As he ran away, CCTV footage captured him climbing over the fence of a nature reserve and his black cap got caught so he left it behind. He also removed his t-shirt which was covered in blood. He left that at the reserve along with the metal pipe he used to murder Aiia with and the WD40 fluid.
The Court heard that Codey claimed that he could not remember where he got the metal pipe or the WD40 from. That aspect of the case was important as it would determine whether the attack was premeditated or not. Was he loitering around the shopping centre looking for a woman to attack? Was he waiting for Aiia? CCTV footage from the shopping centre showed that earlier that evening, he didn't appear to have the metal pipe in his possession but it could have been hidden somewhere in the area. Either way, the fact of the matter remained the same. He didn't pick up the metal pipe during some sort of altercation with Aiia, he had it in his hand before the attack began. He used it to render her unconscious immediately so that she would have no opportunity to defend herself or try to get away. Codey claimed he couldn't remember anything at all that happened in the two hours before the attack took place.
The Prosecutor outlined what Codey did in the days leading up to Aiia's murder for the Court. Just two days before Aiia was murdered, a friend found Codey asleep on the bedroom floor inside his mother's home and Codey told his friend that he was having vivid waking dreams:
“Bro, I just had like five psychoses. I saw a murder in my head.”
Before Aiia's murder, Codey had been squatting in an abandoned, condemned house and was estranged from his foster mother and sister. His day consisted of getting his Centrelink benefit and using it to purchase drugs.
The Defense told the Court that Codey had no prior criminal convictions. His Attorney, Tim Marsh, said that Codey agreed there was no justification for the attack. Tim told the Court it was clear it was a violent and brutal attack on a woman who was walking home as she was perfectly entitled to do.
But Tim asked the Court to take Codey's background into account when sentencing as it was one of extraordinary dislocation and that he had a:
" lifestyle of intoxication through methamphetamines and cannabis."
The Court heard that Codey was moved in and out of his mother's care due to her abuse of alcohol and drugs and due to that, he spent time in foster care. He sought help at the Orygen Youth Health service for his mental health issues in 2016 but had resorted to spending time staying at different places and taking drugs.
Forensic psychiatrist, Prof. Andrew Carroll, told the Court that Codey has a severe personality disorder and exhibited stereotypical, primitive male rage in the rape and murder and that it was the manifestation of male rage towards a female.
Codey's Attorney asked the Court to show leniency due to that personality disorder as it was the result of a severely traumatic childhood. His upbringing, or lack thereof, gave him a warped view of the world. Tim said:
"He may have done a monstrous thing but he was not a monster and had led a life of extraordinary disadvantage."
Codey gave Tim a hand written letter which was read in Court:
"I'm sorry, your daughter didn't deserve such a terrible and tragic thing to happen to her. I don't expect forgiveness as I will never be able to forgive myself and I will be trying to make amends for the rest of my life.
There is no excuse. I truly apologise. I will pray for you and your family every day. Don't give in to hate like I did.
The Prosecution believed that no leniency should be afforded to Codey due to the vicious and violent and depraved attack on Aiia which was a complete and utter disregard for the humanity of the victim. And due to that, they urged the Court to give him a life sentence.
The Court heard from Aiia's family via their victim impact statements that were submitted to the Court and they provided a glimpse of the enormous loss they had to deal with and forever live with. In one of the statements, her sister Ruba, said that she looked up to Aiia and that she "knew how to handle a situation. But some situations no-one knows how to handle." Ruba spoke of how difficult it was for her in the aftermath of her sister's death and how she heard the attack but couldn't do anything to help.
Her mother Kittam described Aiia as a beautiful girl and that when she now speaks about her daughter, she is overwhelmed with sadness:
“You cannot imagine what happened to me after her death. She was my daughter and friend. I was in touch with her everyday. She used to tell me always, I miss you so much mum. When I see you again I will hug you and kiss you.”
Aiia’s other sister Noor said:
“She was always smiling and full of energy. As Mother Teresa once said, ‘Some people come into our life as blessings and some people come into our life as lessons. Aiia was both."
Codey told Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth there was "nothing that was personal to the victim herself" and that the rape and murder was an opportunistic act.
At the sentencing hearing, Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth, told Codey:
“Women should be free to walk the streets alone without fear of being violently attacked by a stranger. You struck her with the clear intention of killing her. You quickly subjected her to a savage attack. Aiia was physically small, unsuspecting and alone. She had no opportunity to defend herself.”
She went on to say:
"Although you were a regular drug user during this period, there is no suggestion or evidence that you committed these acts while you were intoxicated, or in a drug-induced psychosis.
Dr Carroll could not point to any single, critical factor that precipitated the ultimate breakdown of inhibition on the night in question. He believes that a number of proximal factors are likely to have reinforced each other in compromising your already fragile executive functioning capacity, including: a number of humiliating or violent experiences involving your peers in the preceding weeks and months; the unresolved effects of a previous relationship breakdown; the ongoing effects of regular intoxication; worsening of your mood state, with depression of mood, hopelessness and some suicidal ideation; and the poor state of your physical health, including a degree of chronic starvation. Dr Carroll believes that your profound personality dysfunction, and your accumulated unprocessed anger towards the world (particularly women), led to your committing this angry type of sexual homicide."
Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth sentenced Codey to 36 years in prison with a non parole period of 30 years.
After the sentencing hearing, Aiia's father, Saaed Maasarwe, flew to Australia to launch a medical fellowship as a tribute to Aiia in connection with Project Rozana, an Australian founded organization that works to support Palestinian and Israeli relationships through health. Saaed said that the Aiia Maasarwe Memorial Medical Fellowship would continue his daughter's commitment to harmony. He said:
"Project Rozana shows that Israelis and Palestinians can live and work together in harmony, and that is also something that was important for Aiia."
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