Murdering mother walks free

EIGHTEEN years ago, Australian  Gunn-Britt Ashfield and her boyfriend, Austin Allan Hughes, beat her six-year-old son to death with a hammer, a phone book and a curtain rod. Yesterday, Ashfield — who now goes by the name of Angelic Karstrom — walked out of prison, one year short of her maximum sentence for the murder of John, who suffered a retinal haemorrhage and bruising to most of his body during the prolonged attack in August 1993.

Wearing heels, a white shirt and a black pantsuit, the 43-year-old emerged from the gates of the medium security Dillwynia Correction Centre about 11am to be greeted by a phalanx of media.

Carrying a large blue plastic bag with her belongings, Karstrom raised her palm to signal she would not comment as she was escorted to a vehicle by police.

Her daughter, Melissa Ashfield, now 21, who was just three when she witnessed the brutal attack on John, had strongly opposed Karstrom’s release during a State Parole Authority hearing last month.

The parole authority chose to release Karstrom a year before her sentence ended so her return to the community could be monitored and attached to strict conditions, including electronic monitoring, drug and alcohol testing, curfews and counselling.

She will be back behind bars if she goes to the Illawarra and Hunter regions, where her family lives, or visits John’s grave or is found in the company of anyone aged under 16.

The heartless murder of little John shocked the tight-knit NSW South Coast community, where the child was in Year 1.

Hughes and Karstrom beat John in a frenzied attack over a number of hours, holding a phone book to his head as they beat it with a hammer about 100 times as he cried, “Don’t do this to me. I’m sore, I’m sorry.” Hughes also forced the boy to wear one of his younger sister’s dresses and encouraged the child’s siblings to jump off the top of a bunk bed on to his body.

John died in hospital the following day as Hughes and Karstrom made a public appeal for information, claiming the boy had been attacked by a gang of teenagers in a park close to their home.

Karstrom is also banned from contacting Hughes, who was released in December 2009 and spent three months undertaking the community offenders support program while living at a Corrective Services halfway house.


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