Adam Brown: Lecturer killed wife Chen Cheng in ‘rage-state’

A former senior university lecturer who murdered his wife in a “rage-state” has partial amnesia, a court has heard.

Adam Brown, 40, faced the Supreme Court of Victoria on Friday after pleading guilty to the murder of Chen Cheng, 35, on April 30 last year.

Brown, a senior lecturer in digital media at Deakin University, sat with his head bowed and sobbing in the dock – to his left was more than a dozen friends and family.

The court was told the couple had married in 2017 and welcomed a son, Luke, three years later.

Ms Chen, a Chinese national who moved to Australia and completed a masters degree in construction management, was found in a pool of blood in the rear yard of their Croydon North home shortly after 10pm.

Crown prosecutor Nanette Rogers SC said worried neighbours had rushed onto the street about 15 minutes earlier after hearing a female voice screaming, crying and begging Brown to stop.

She said one neighbour knocked on the couple’s front door at 10.02pm to hear Ms Chen yell: “Help me. Help me. He’s trying to kill me”.

The court was told the fight moved into the backyard of the property before the screaming began to die down.

A few minutes later, Brown opened the garage door and let neighbours, including a registered nurse, rush inside.

They found Ms Chen unresponsive on grass and began CPR.

By 10.24pm, police arrived after both Brown and neighbours called triple-0.

During an 11-minute call to emergency services, Brown said he’d “never seen her like this”.

“He said they had an argument and his partner attacked him,” Ms Rogers said.

“She had come at him with a knife and they both had stabbed each other.”

The court heard this was a lie, and Brown later admitted he was the one who drew the knife.

The pair had begun arguing upstairs about future childcare arrangements, which escalated after Ms Chen “boxed him around the ears and spat in his face”, Ms Rogers said.

The fight continued downstairs, where Brown armed himself and attacked Ms Chen in their kitchen.

“This is completely at odds with what he told police,” she said.

A post-mortem examination found Ms Chen had suffered three stab wounds, including a 9cm deep cut to her neck that cut the jugular vein, and 11 incision wounds.

Brown had bruising on his chest and arms, a possible bite to his forearm and cuts to his hands.

A forensic examination of the crime scene found “extensive blood stains” through the kitchen, back deck and grass.

The court heard from Dr Andrew Carroll, a forensic psychiatrist, who later diagnosed Brown as suffering from an adjustment disorder.

He said Brown was “overwhelmed” by a torrent of emotion at the time, entering a “rage-state” where he was estranged from reality.

“He describes feeling in the moment that he did not have personal agency, that this was all happening and he was an observer,” he said.

“You could say that’s self-serving … but actually it fits with this depersonalisation.”

“He was in a state of rage clearly directed towards the victim. He was not thinking about the consequences of his actions.”

In a victim impact statement read to the court, Ms Chen’s mother, Min Liu, said she had visited Australia in early 2020 to care for her daughter during Luke’s birth.

She said she saw arguments between the pair, with Brown raising his voice and speaking in a “fierce manner” while Ms Chen would remain silent.

“My only darling daughter, like a flower, was killed by her husband. Why,” she said.

“This whole tragedy was like a fatal blow to my heart. If Adam didn’t love her they could have separated or divorced.”

Brown’s barrister, David Hallowes, told the court that his client was deeply sorry and was still struggling to understand what he had done.

“His actions on that day were so different to how he views himself,” he said.

“Every waking moment he wishes he could take back the actions that day but can’t.”

He told the court that Brown was receiving counselling for stress and grief prior to the murder after the traumatic birth of their son and a breakdown in the family unit.

“It’s quite clear Mr Brown has some significant stressors in his life and he was struggling to cope,” he said.

“The catastrophic actions that took place on the day of the murder need to be viewed in that background in that light.

“That said, we don’t seek to excuse or justify the actions of Mr Brown and he doesn’t want us to. He wants her memory preserved and respected.”

He accepted, when queried by Judge John Champion, that the offending could only be viewed as a “pretty savage attack” given the disparity in injuries between Brown and Ms Chen.

“This was totally out of character,” Mr Hallowes said.

Ms Rogers accepted that the adjustment disorder diagnosis did reduce his moral culpability for the offending “to a degree”.

She did not dispute Mr Hallowes’ suggestion that Brown had “excellent prospects for rehabilitation” when released.

Justice Champion remanded Brown into custody and will sentence him at a later date.

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