Edward Lionel Hill was sentenced to 20 years in prison, to serve a minimum of 15. Picture: Nicole Garmston
Edward Lionel Hill was sentenced to 20 years in prison, to serve a minimum of 15. Picture: Nicole Garmston

Man killed, cut up over $60 debt

WARNING: Graphic

BRENDAN Bernard's head has never been found.

It's something his family has to live with three years on from the 32-year-old's grisly murder.

Parts of Mr Bernard's body floated to the top of the dirt-brown Maribyrnong River in Victoria's northwest in January, 2015, including a forearm with a tattoo that helped identify him.

But the victim's head was never found. His killers - who murdered him and chopped up his body over a $60 debt - say they dropped it in a skip bin. By now it could be anywhere.

"Where's the rest of my son's body," Mr Bernard's father, Ronald Whitmore, asked convicted killers Constantinos Spaliaras, Edward Hill and Matthew Brennan in 2015.

"He was a human being. He was my son."

The family's grief is unending, but today it was made worse as they sat through testimony in the Victorian Court of Appeal where Mr Bernard's killers pleaded for mercy.

Spaliaras, Hill and Brennan are each appealing against their lengthy sentences. In February last year they were handed jail terms of 17, 20 and 22 years respectively for the drug-fuelled murder inside the victim's North Melbourne flat. But they say that wasn't fair.

Police divers found parts of Mr Bernard’s body in the Maribyrnong River. Picture: Hamish Blair
Police divers found parts of Mr Bernard’s body in the Maribyrnong River. Picture: Hamish Blair

KILLER'S EXCUSE HEARD IN COURT

The crime was particularly disturbing. The three drug addicts entered Mr Bernard's home hoping to retrieve money owed to one of their girlfriends.

They bashed and choked Mr Bernard to death in a bathtub after a "protracted, brutal and cowardly assault" that went from the kitchen and into the bathroom, a judge said.

At one point, the victim was unconscious. When he woke, the beating started up again.

Spaliaras, 35, put the victim in a sleeper hold, pulled out a cutthroat razor and waved it in front of the victim's face. Later he choked him.

A witness, who cannot be named, said she walked into the bathroom and found Mr Bernard lifeless with a rope around his neck.

After the bashing, the three men dismembered the victim before dumping some body parts in a wheelie bin and others in the Maribyrnong River.

All three men were drug-affected at the time, but a court heard on Monday how the "hyper-violent" crime was conducted with little concern for the victim.

Police search and rescue during the extensive search. Parts of Mr Bernard’s body have never been found. Picture: Hamish Blair
Police search and rescue during the extensive search. Parts of Mr Bernard’s body have never been found. Picture: Hamish Blair

"He kept crying and screaming out," Justice Christopher Maxwell told the court. "They put pillows over him to try and muffle his cries."

But the lawyer for Brennan argued his sentence should be reduced to manslaughter or thrown out. The reason? The jury couldn't ignore the victim's dismemberment when determining whether his killers planned to kill him.

Colin Mandy, representing Brennan, 40, argued his client was unfairly convicted because the jury found it "difficult" to ignore the fact that his client had cut up a body and tossed it in a river.

He said it was an "onerous task" for the jury, even after they'd been instructed not to consider what happened after the murder.

Mr Mandy also argued that the jury incorrectly heard all three killers used ice, when in fact his client preferred opioids. He said ice was seen as a "violent" drug but opioids were not.

Asked if he would be open to a "outright acquittal" or a verdict of manslaughter, Mr Mandy replied: "Yes."

Matthew David Brennan. Picture: Nicole Garmston
Matthew David Brennan. Picture: Nicole Garmston

'IT WASN'T ABOUT THE MONEY'

The court revisited details of the murder on Monday, including that blood splatter was found on the walls of the home.

Mr Mandy argued it was difficult to determine who the blood belonged to given Mr Bernard had been involved in "a number of fights in that flat" in the weeks leading up to his death.

The court previously heard that money was the motivating factor for the assault and that the men never intended to kill the victim - it simply escalated, lawyers argued. But a judge threw out that notion on Monday.

"If you're concerned about the money, why not let the poor bloke go?" Justice Maxwell said.

"This is a vicious, joint assault."

Members of Mr Bernard's family sat metres from killer Edward Hill on Monday. Hill, dressed in green pants and a white shirt, was led into the courtroom by police officers but did not address the court.

Neither Brennan or Spaliaras were present. A judgment was not expected to be reached on Monday.

Email: Rohan.Smith1@news.com.au | Twitter: @Ro_Smith

- with AAP

Brendan Bernard was brutally murdered inside his flat in 2015.
Brendan Bernard was brutally murdered inside his flat in 2015.
A forearm was recovered by police divers. Picture: Hamish Blair
A forearm was recovered by police divers. Picture: Hamish Blair
Constantinos George Spaliaras. Picture: Nicole Garmston
Constantinos George Spaliaras. Picture: Nicole Garmston

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