THE parents of a toddler who was beaten to death by his babysitter believe Australian children will continue to die if child abusers aren't locked away longer.

Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin this week watched as Matthew James Ireland - a man they once thought was a friend but now call a "predator" - was jailed for eight-and-a-half years for manslaughter of their 18-month-old son Hemi Goodwin-Burke.

As the sentence was being handed down at the Mackay Supreme Court some reacted furiously, shouting to Ireland, "You're a f***ing murderer," and "you should be all ashamed of yourself".

 

Hemi Goodwin-Burke’s parents feel like they failed him
Hemi Goodwin-Burke’s parents feel like they failed him

Adding to their fury is the knowledge he could free in less than two years because of time already served. He has been in custody since Hemi's death in March 2015.

The 31-year-old pleaded guilty to manslaughter after the Crown agreed to downgrade the main charge of murder.
Mr Burke, 35, and Ms Goodwin, 34, told news.com.au they were the "voices for Hemi" and want justice for their little boy.

But it's not just a desire to see the killer of their son jailed for longer that is driving them.

It's also regret.


"WE FAILED"

"We failed. As much as people say we suffered, we [also] failed. And that's hard for me to keep saying, because I was not there to protect Hemi. And now the State, the Crown, have failed him again," Ms Goodwin said.

They both gave victim impact statements in court, standing metres away from Ireland, who sat with his head down in the dock.

"He didn't look ... When we walked past to give our statements he looked at Kerri-Ann and said he was sorry ... But that doesn't mean anything."

Hemi Goodwin-Burke.
Hemi Goodwin-Burke.

They'd heard his own account of what happened the night Hemi was fatally injured.

"From [what Ireland told police] he sat outside drinking and every time he walked back inside he applied another form of violence

"Whether it was kicking him like a football, picking him up by his throat, squeezing him, pushing him down in his cot.

"Every time [he went inside] he did more."

The court heard Ireland drunkenly beat Hemi over a two-hour period while babysitting him at the family home in Moranbah, Queensland.

The little boy's body was covered in 78 bruises from being kicked and punched repeatedly.

Ireland told police Hemi hit his head on the side of the bathtub after he violently jerked the child's leg out from under him.

He originally lied to investigators that Hemi had suffered a seizure, and tried to blame the injuries on the boy's three-year-old sister.

Later, he conceded he was drunk. Listening to what Hemi went through "broke us", Mr Burke said.

"Just to think of the pain he was in. We weren't there to protect him," Ms Goodwin said.

"Think how scared he would have been."


THE 'PREDATOR' IN THEIR HOME

There hasn't been a day gone by they didn't regret letting Ireland into their lives.
 

The family of Hemi Goodwin-Burke are devastated at the sentence of his killer
The family of Hemi Goodwin-Burke are devastated at the sentence of his killer

Ms Goodwin blames herself for allowing "the predator" into their homes that had been "Hemi's safe haven". She had been in Brisbane receiving medical treatment for a back injury and trusted Ireland to babysit.

"I let this person into our home, a place that should have been a safe haven," Ms Goodwin said.

"I trusted him, I thought he was a friend. I'm sorry Hemi," she said in her statement to the court.

Mr Burke had known Ireland for a decade. They'd worked in the mines together and he had spent time with the family, looking after the children, and doing odd jobs with Mr Burke for two months. There was no sign at all he could be dangerous.

"And then when we left him alone something must have changed."

They told him there wasn't to be any alcohol in the house, and with no suggestion anything could go wrong, they left for the Brisbane appointment confident everything would be fine.

 

Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin - Justice for Hemi
Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin - Justice for Hemi Tony Martin

The night Hemi was injured they spoke to Ireland at about 6.30pm.

"He said everything was fine. If it was that he was struggling and he needed help, there was opportunity to say that."

Mr Burke's belief was that once he started to harm Hemi there was no turning back.

"I think after he inflicted the first bruises he couldn't stop."

They heard something had happened early the next day and flew to Townsville where Hemi was on life support. As soon as Mr Burke laid eyes on his son he knew he was gone.

"you could tell he was gone when we walked in. Because really he had died in the bathroom when his brain stem was severed. That's the force that was impacted on him - enough to sever his brain stem."

It was hard to find the words to describe how they were feeling.

"We are nowhere near justice for Hemi. But we need to make sure he can't do it again."

Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin
Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin Tony Martin

They have started a petition to the Queensland Attorney-General and are also going to attempt to appeal.

"There's so much more that could have been done. I think the message is that so many of our children are getting let down here, they're getting a few years ... A few years for a child's life. We need to boost these sentences, you kill a child and all you get is a slapped wrist."

 

MANSLAUGHTER NOT MURDER

Mr Burke said they were told about Ireland's desire to plead guilty to manslaughter when the case was still working its way towards the Supreme Court where they expected him to be tried for murder.

"The Crown asked us how we would feel and we told them no, we would rather go to trial," he said.

Ms Goodwin would have rather it went before a jury and failed than to have him convicted for a lesser sentence.

"I don't know how they can change it from murder to manslaughter.

 

Matthew James Ireland pictured taking Hemi Burke to swimming lessons. Ireland has pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Hemi, who was just 18-months-old.
Matthew James Ireland pictured taking Hemi Burke to swimming lessons. Ireland has pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Hemi, who was just 18-months-old. Contributed

The couple said they begged prosecutors and police to stick with murder.

"Then they told us they were downgrading it and we begged him [again] and they told us it would be hard to prove intent."

That stunned Mr Burke - because he had viewed a video filmed by detectives where Ireland walked them through the house reconstructing what happened the day Hemi was fatally injured.

"We watched a video where he walked the police around our house saying all the things that he did, and he said it was over an 11 hour period in that video. But in court [at sentencing ] they said it was over a two hour period."

Ms Goodwin said she'd never felt as "humiliated" as she did when she begged prosecutors not to downgrade the charge.

"We just want justice for Hemi."

 

Members of Hemi Burke's family, including Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin, leaving Mackay Courthouse after the hearing.
Members of Hemi Burke's family, including Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin, leaving Mackay Courthouse after the hearing. Luke Mortimer

Mr Burke said the family was still fighting to get information about what really happened to his son.

"We've been left out of the loop the whole time," he said "If they wanted to downgrade the charge they should have shown us why. "They've left us in the dark."

Hemi's family had planned to wear T-shirts bearing the toddler's face during the sentencing but were ordered by Justice Duncan McMeekin not to bring them into the court.

He told them he didn't want a silent protest.

Mrs Goodwin could understand that view if a jury was present, but didn't accept that at sentencing. "If we have to sit there and look at the predator he should be able to sit there and look at the victim."

But as Ireland was led away to begin his jail term, a handful of people in the public gallery quickly open jackets to reveal the shirts blazing "Justice for Hemi".

News Corp Australia


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