The man behind one of NSWâ€™s most shocking murders will learn whether or not he is to be released from prison at the end of this month.
Neville Raymond Towner brutally raped and killed four-year-old Lauren Hickson at the Nepean River in Emu Plains, in Sydneyâ€™s west almost 30 years ago.
Then 23, he was the son of the young girlâ€™s babysitter when he took her from her parentsâ€™ caravan.
He told police that he had pushed her head underwater to stop her screaming, then bashed her over the head with a rock, dumping her body in the river.
Towner was originally sentenced to life in prison for murder and sexual assault but in 2002 was resentenced to a 20-year minimum term, which made him eligible for parole in 2009.
Laurenâ€™s mother, Jurina Hickson, said she was frightened of Towner being let out back into the community.
She said outside court that her daughter had the face of a â€œbeautiful little angelâ€.
â€œShe was just a little darling. If she was alive today she wouldâ€™ve been 33, so therefore we didnâ€™t get to see her get married or have children, weâ€™ve been denied grandchildren, things that families do when their loved ones, children grow up,” Mrs Hickson told the media.
â€œBut, no, Neville Towner took all of that away.â€
NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin opposes Townerâ€™s release.
But the court heard the Corrective Services Serious Offenders Review Council was unanimous in its view that Towner should be paroled.
State opposition leader Luke Foley said Towner should not be released.
â€œAnyone convicted of the brutal rape, torture and murder of an innocent four-year-old child should die behind bars. It is as simple as that,â€ he said.
â€œTowner should not get out of jail. The state has a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in our society and it would be unable to discharge that duty if the likes of Towner were to go free.â€
Now in his 50s, Towner appeared at the public hearing via audiovisual link wearing glasses and sporting a white beard.
Acting for the state, lawyer Brett Thomson said Towner was experiencing night terrors.
He said the killer had identified an â€˜offence pathwayâ€™ in which negative thoughts about himself, depression and feelings of rejection and jealousy led to a sense of entitlement in using sex to gain control over someone.
â€œMy understanding is that position hasnâ€™t changed,â€ Mr Thomson said.
Townerâ€™s solicitor, Michelle Simpson said her client was receiving treatment for his mental health issues.
Justice Wood said there were risks of increasing the institutionalisation of Towner by keeping him in custody.
Itâ€™s understood that if Towner were to be released from Long Bay jail he would go into a Community Offender Support Program housing facility, and would wear an electronic anklet.
He has been allowed out of jail on day-release to allow him to attend rehabilitation programs. Crime victims advocate Howard Brown urged the Parole Authority to keep Towner locked up for another year to allow him to finish the programs.
â€œThere would be very little difference between Mr Towner being granted parole and going to a COSP, and being refused parole and continuing his treatment,â€ Mr Brown said.
He said a change.org petition against Townerâ€™s release, which has so far gained more than 151,000 signatures â€œindicates that the public has some concern in relation to Mr Townerâ€™s release”.
Mr Brown also used his address to plead with the public to leave Towner alone, if he is eventually released.
Mrs Hickson said outside court she was expecting her daughterâ€™s killer to be released on parole.
â€œI just donâ€™t want him coming after my family again,â€ she said.
â€œHeâ€™s a ticking time bomb.â€
Laurenâ€™s cousin Robert Miell, who is behind the change.org petition, urged more people to put their names to it in the lead-up to the Authorityâ€™s decision date.
â€œEveryone wants to see him stay in jail because of the severity of the murder. He took Laurenâ€™s life away. He should never be released,â€ Mr Miell said.