Italian backpacker, 27, who strangled female author, 53, at stud farm before walking around naked is locked up
AN Italian backpacker who strangled a female author at a stud farm before walking around naked has today been locked up.
Luigi Palmas, 27, "waited in the shadows" before killing veterinary pharmacist Katherine Bevan at Combe Farm in January.
The defendant had only been there for a few weeks, but the pair, who both volunteered at the farm, repeatedly clashed about how the cattle should be cared for, prosecutors said.
The feud got so bad that Katherine told her husband she felt uncomfortable being around the defendant before he attacked her on January 3 this year.
A judge said the circumstances of the killing remain a mystery and that only the defendant knew how it happened.
When her body was found half covered in hay, it was initially believed she had been trampled to death by cattle in a horrific accident.
Staff then started to raise suspicion about Palmas' odd behaviour over the next few days.
On one occasion he was found naked covered in manure, and on another he grabbed a knife and wanted to attack a visitor to the farm in Honiton, Devon.
And after a post mortem confirmed a suspicious cause of death, he was arrested for her murder.
Last month, Palmas pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility after prosecutors accepted he was in the grips of his paranoid schizophrenia.
At his sentencing on Friday at Exeter Crown Court, a judge made him the subject of a hospital order and ordered him to be detained in Broadmoor Hospital for the public's safety.
Prosecuting, Richard Smith, said: "On Jan 3, the defendant strangled Katherine Bevan to death and left her body in a cattle pen at the farm where they were both then working."
He told how Katherine's fellow workers at the farm launched a search party that night after she failed to turn up for their evening meal.
He added: "A search soon thereafter revealed Kate's body and the emergency services were contacted.
He was seen to cover himself in manure and was walking around the farm naked, refusing to wash. He was talking incoherently.
"Police were accompanied by paramedics, who treated the woman, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.
"At that stage there was no real thought of foul play, perhaps unsurprising, having regard to the fact that they thought Kate had been trampled to death by cattle in the pen."
A forensic examination of Katherine's body later revealed that she had been strangled.
Mr Smith added: "The defendant was noted to be agitated the night following the death, was walking up and down disturbing those in the premises.
"He was seen to cover himself in manure and was walking around the farm naked, refusing to wash. He was talking incoherently.
"Meanwhile, the general misapprehension persisted that Kate died as the result of an accident. The truth was not properly revealed until the victim's body was examined by a pathologist.
"She concluded that the cause of death was pressure to the neck, it was clear that Kate was strangled."
Mr Smith said the victim was known to her friends and family as Kate, and had been volunteering at Coombe farm for about five years and had been living at the farm for 12 months.
He added: "She was passionately enthusiastic about animals and was caring and fond of the cows on the farm.
"It is clear that as a person away from the farm and indeed on the farm she was very well respected and well liked by many."
Speaking of Palmas, he said: "This defendant, Luigi Palmas, arrived at the farm from Italy in December 2019, what we now know of him is he is a man who had a history of mental health issues and by the time he arrived in this country those issues were very much coming back to the fore."
The court heard how Palmas suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and his symptoms include a volatile and unpredictable mood, and occasions of thought disorder, amongst others.
Mr Smith added: "It appears that this illness was returning in this defendant by the end of last year and he was significantly affected by this disorder when he killed Katherine Bevan.
"He told doctors that he waited in the shadows in the night in question and attacked his victim. Quite why he decided to do so perhaps we will never know.
"This defendant had on occasions fallen into dispute with the victim since his arrival.
"Various farm workers had seen altercations between the pair over the way cattle were treated on the farm.
"The victim's husband described how she had reported that she simply couldn't get away from the defendant, and it was clear in the new year that she was uncomfortable in his company.
"By the turn of the year, as Katherine Bevan had explained to others, including her husband, she didn't feel comfortable in the presence of the defendant and it is clear there had been disputes and altercations between them while working together on the farm."
Appearing at the hearing via video link, Palmas wore a denim jacket and remained calm and quiet throughout.
On one occasion, he smiled as elements of his strange behaviour were read out.
Mr Smith explained how Palmas was interviewed by a doctor, with police present, while he was in custody – where he first admitted killing his victim.
'I KILLED A WOMAN'
He said: "He went on to say, 'I tried to come here to the UK for work. I got work volunteering on a farm. Problem with a girl. I killed a girl. A woman.
"When asked what he meant, he repeated, 'I killed a woman'.
"When the doctor repeated the answer he said, 'yeah because she had problem with… nothing to explain now, OK'.
"The defendant was seen to raise his own hands towards his throat, demonstrating what he had done to his victim.
"He then repeated, 'I killed her'.
Palmas also admitted a second charge of GBH in relation to the assault of a fellow patient while he was detained.
Sentencing Palmas to a hospital order, Judge Johnson told him: "Your victim, Katherine Bevan, known as Kate, worked at the farm. She was doing a job she loved.
"The two of you didn't have a good relationship and while she was not confrontational there were arguments between the two of you.
"On the evening of Jan 3 this year you were both at the farm. In circumstances that are not entirely clear, you encountered her and strangled her to death. Only you know what happened and why you killed her.
"Her body was left in, or moved, to the bullpen. Because of where her body was it was assumed it had been a tragic accident.
"Your behaviour deteriorated in the following days with increasingly erratic behaviour.
"You were detained on Jan 6 and admitted to hospital. While there you stabbed an interpreter in the leg with a pencil and were transferred to a psychiatric unit.
"Your plea to manslaughter was accepted because there was compelling evidence that on Jan 3 you were suffering from an abnormality of mental functioning.
"It is clear that you are presently dangerous and there is a significant risk of you causing harm to others.
"There is clear evidence that you are suffering from a mental disorder, I'm satisfied that treatment is available and a hospital order may be an appropriate way of dealing with this case.
"I therefore order that you are detained at Broadmoor hospital, where you have been since March. I'm entirely satisfied that it is necessary to protect the public from serious harm."
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