FOR nearly three years, Richard Giardina maintained he was innocent of murdering his estranged wife and dumping her body in bushland.
But just minutes before he was to stand trial in the Maryborough Supreme Court yesterday morning, 42-year-old Giardina made a shock admission that left his lawyers in disbelief: he was guilty.
Giardina was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Hervey Bay businesswoman Lisa Maree Keem after the details surrounding the murder on Saturday, June 14, 2008, were revealed to the court.
Crown prosecutor Michael Copley said on the afternoon of the murder Giardina arrived unannounced at Ms Keem’s Point Vernon home.
At some point Giardina “overpowered and strangled” Ms Keem, with whom he had been separated for several months, in her home office.
He then put Ms Keem’s body on the back seat of his car, which he had bought under a false name, and travelled more than 10 hours south to a state forest outside Kempsey in New South Wales.
Mr Copley said Giardina removed the body from his car, doused it in petrol and set it alight. A man collecting firewood made the grisly discovery of the body later that day.
“The disposal of the body was a very determined attempt to ensure authorities could not find out who it was,” Mr Copley said.
The court heard once he arrived home in Sydney, Giardina destroyed the vehicle he used to transport Ms Keem’s body by setting fire to it. He then had his hair cut, packed his bags and caught the next flight to Italy.
Giardina would return to Australia just weeks later, however, to hand himself in to police, who were alerted to Ms Keem’s disappearance by her concerned friends.
The court heard Ms Keem’s autopsy report found the cause of death was strangulation, but there were also injuries consistent with being punched in the face and kneed in the stomach.
Her body was burnt “with the aid of fluid”.
Mr Copley said evidence – including CCTV footage of him removing petrol cans from his workplace and purchasing the car under a false name – proved Giardina had been planning the murder for several weeks.
Of particular note was the fact that several months prior to the killing Ms Keem and Giardina’s lawyers had been in discussion in relation to $60,000 Ms Keem owed to Giardina’s mother, who helped the couple set up a pet grooming business when they moved to Hervey Bay in 2006.
“The deceased was not in a financial position to repay the money. A letter was sent to the accused ... by the time of the killing.”
In court yesterday Ms Keem’s mother and sister wept while the facts were read out to the court.
Later they told reporters while they were happy with Giardina’s life sentence, “life would never be the same”.
Giardina was given 25 years, minus 982 days of pre-sentence custody declared as time served.
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