WARNING: The content of this story may be distressing.
Michael Cardamone was a convicted rapist, who forced himself onto a 15-year-old girl in Myrtleford, 11 years before he tortured and killed his Whorouly neighbour Karen Chetcuti Verbunt.
The 50-year-old has now pleaded guilty to the murder of Ms Chetcuti Verbunt’s and incitement to murder a key prosecution witness.
He drugged Ms Chetcuti Verbunt with an animal tranquilliser, bound and gagged her, before fracturing her skull and using petrol to set her alight.
The pleas, heard at Melbourne Supreme Court on Friday, put an end to Cardamone’s ongoing charade to claim his innocence.
He injected his victim with battery acid and ran her over body with his car after she died, called Wangaratta solicitor Geoff Clancy four days later saying he had been abducted by two Lebanese men, pointed the finger at the man who helped him destroy Ms Chetcuti Verbunt’s car, and finally tried to hire a hitman to kill the witness.
The plea hearing will take place in Wangaratta on August 21 before Cardamone is sentenced on August 25.
The Border Mail can now reveal the man was on parole at the time he committed Ms Chetcuti Verbunt’s murder.
He had served six years in jail for the brutal rape of a 15-year-old girl when he worked at a Myrtleford tobacco farm in March 2005.
The girl was woken by Cardamone holding a pillow over her face before he threatened to kill her if she did not “shut up” and “take your clothes off, just strip for me, take your top off”.
He then raped her digitally and forced her to give him oral sex before he turned her onto her stomach and masturbated.
Cardamone’s parole was revoked in 2015 when he was charged with producing child pornography offences – he spent four months in custody after he took a photo of a six-year-old girl baring her bottom at home.
But the charge was thrown out of Wangaratta Magistrates' Court when the magistrate ruled the photo was taken “in clearly a quite innocent manner”, not in a sexualised context.
Cardamone moved out to Whorouly, just around the corner from Ms Chetcuti Verbunt.
He told Fairfax Media the day after her disappearance he had been there to collect some tomatoes that he had grown, but it is still unknown why things turned violent.
Law ‘just doesn’t make sense’
Family and friends of Karen Chetcuti Verbunt are relieved they will not have to sit through a lengthy trial listening to grim details of the 49-year-old woman’s death.
A committal hearing for Michael Cardamone in March revealed he drugged, bound and assaulted the woman before setting her alight and disposing of her body off Croppers Creek Road, near Lake Buffalo.
Karen’s sister Leny Verbunt, who was in Melbourne to hear the guilty plea, said it meant they were spared reliving what occurred, especially the teenage children.
“It’s good news,” she said.
“We’re relieved that he’s pleaded guilty and my 84-year old mother doesn’t have to sit through five or six weeks of all those horrific details.”
It is understood Cardamone tested positive to drugs while on parole, a contravention of his parole conditions.
When the case is over, Karen’s loved ones will push for parole reform to try to prevent someone else dying at the hands of a sex offender.
Karen’s friend Carol Roadknight is one of the founders of the Enough is Enough campaign and said parolees should not be allowed to reside in remote rural locations where there is no protection.
“Putting someone out there with such a violent history on parole, to Whorouly, where’s the common sense there?” she said.
“Look at Karen, look what’s happened … We were lucky to find her.
“It just doesn’t make sense, it’s got to stop.”
Cardamone’s mother, 79-year-old Maria Cardamone remains in custody for allegedly hiring a hitman, who turned out to be an undercover police officer, to kill the prosecution witness.