‘Cops are gonna die … it’s going to be beautiful’
With a knife up his sleeve and an Islamic flag downloaded to a mobile phone, Blake Nicholas Pender walked up behind four distracted police in Sydney's Surry Hills.
He'd filled his mind with radical religious beliefs after spending years falling in and out of psychosis - voices in Pender's head had told him to "kill, kill, kill" but he had tried to resist.
Pender, who has a crucifix tattooed under his right eye, avoided a NSW Supreme Court trial this month with a last-minute guilty plea to knowingly possessing a knife in connection with terrorism.
He was charged after approaching police in June 2017, armed with a blade. He grappled with the officers and shouted threats during his arrest.
He also pleaded guilty to threatening magistrate Joanne Keogh when she refused to release him on bail in Central Local Court.
The softly spoken 28-year-old, with shoulder length hair, ambled into the witness box at a sentencing hearing on Thursday to shed light on what his barrister called his "chaotic and erratic existence".
The court heard he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and substance abuse disorders and had his first psychotic episode in 2010.
He was known to carry and even sleep with a knife, suffered auditory hallucinations and paranoia.
As a teenager he was living with a devout Christian foster family when he converted to Islam.
"I converted when I was 16 and renounced it when I was 17," Pender told the court.
But at 25 years old, he went back to Islam with more vigour. He began wearing traditional dress and lived for some time in a mosque at Harris Park.
Two years later, in 2017, he got high on the drug ice, downloaded a picture of an Islamic flag, hid a knife up his sleeve and began walking through Surry Hills.
Pender renounced Islam again while behind bars and is now attempting to convert to Judaism, he explained.
Crown Prosecutor Trish McDonald SC accused him of renouncing Islam when he realised he was facing a terrorism charge that carried life imprisonment, rather than a few years for possession of a knife.
"No, no, that's not correct at all," Pender said calmly, shaking his head.
He would go on to plead guilty to the terror charge in November this year.
His voice had been far more animated and intense when he told a female friend called Ms Webb, using a prison phone, that he was "gearing up for martyrdom".
"I'm going to die for a cause when I get out," he told the woman in a recorded phone call shortly after his arrest in 2017.
"Cops are gonna die, people are gonna die, it's going to be beautiful I'm ready, I'm ready."
The woman warned him people would be listening to the call, but Pender continued on his rant and said he was going to "blow up a train" once released.
"Allahu Akbar, I love you, bye," he said hanging up.
Justice Ian Harrison said Ms Webb appeared to believe he was either "joking or crazy".
Justice Harrison spent much of the hearing querying how connected to reality Mr Pender was at the time of the arrest given his lengthy mental health history.
"People that tell police, in the streets of Surry Hills, that they're going to cut their heads off are not people we come across on a regular basis thankfully - and its considered strange behaviour," he said.
The prosecutor acknowledged Pender's drug use and mental health issues but insisted he was to be held accountable for his choices.
"At the time he made a decision to do what he did and express views he did," she said.
His barrister, Joanne Gallagher, explained Pender had missed his antipsychotic injection before the arrest, was drug affected and his act had been "spontaneous".
She said he needed the care of the community and asked for his almost inevitable prison term to not be too long.
Pender will be sentenced on December 18.