The parents of Hemi Burke, Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin.
The parents of Hemi Burke, Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin. Tony Martin

Court erupts in sobs, shouts as child killer's fate decided

UPDATE: A MACKAY court echoed with the sounds of anguish and anger as a child killer's fate was determined.

Matthew James Ireland, 31, was jailed for eight and a half years in the Supreme Court in Mackay on Monday for bashing 18-month-old Hemi Burke to death in Moranbah on March 26, 2015.

But Ireland will be eligible for parole on March 24, 2019, meaning he could be free in less than two years after serving time for manslaughter.

Following Justice Duncan McMeekin's decision, heavy sobbing and angry outbursts could be heard throughout the courtroom, which was packed with Hemi's family - including mum Kerri-Ann Goodwin and dad Shane Burke.

Any empty seats in the room were taken up by supporters of Fighters Against Child Abuse Australia, who attended with the family's blessing.

Security guards were called, though the noisy unrest only lasted briefly before family and supporters filed outside.

Hemi's family and members of the child protection organisation wore shirts emblazoned with 'Justice for Hemi' to the sentencing, but switched them for black shirts before entering the courthouse.


Hemi Les Burke.
Hemi Burke, who was killed by Matthew James Ireland in March, 2015.

During the hearing, Ireland frequently stared at the floor of the dock and cried, while Ms Goodwin, Mr Burke and others in the courtroom stared him down.

In his submissions, Crown prosecutor Joshua Phillips detailed Ireland's criminal past, the night in question and Hemi's resulting injuries.

He said Ireland spent time in prison following a knife-point convenience shop robbery as a 19-year-old, but that otherwise his criminal history was not relevant.

Mr Phillips said autopsy reports showed Hemi ultimately died from a brain injury while in Ireland's care, but that he also suffered internal haemorrhages and 78 bruises to his body over roughly two hours.


Hemi Burke's parents speak out: Kerri-Ann Goodwin and Shane Burke speak outside court, devastated by the sentence handed down to their son's killer, Matthew James Ireland.
Hemi Burke's parents speak out: Kerri-Ann Goodwin and Shane Burke speak outside court, devastated by the sentence handed down to their son's killer, Matthew James Ireland.

Justice McMeekin said Ireland - who had been a friend to Mr Burke and Ms Goodwin - told police the fatal blow to Hemi's head was caused when he was bathing the toddler while babysitting.

" ... he eventually told them he had caused injuries to the child in an attempt to quieten him. The accounts he gave matched to some extent the bruising which was later found," he said.

"There are four separate incidents that you (Ireland) have recalled to the police in which you applied pressure to him (Hemi), or hit him or kicked him.

"The fatal injury appears to have occurred in this way: Hemi woke up crying, you went into his room, he had defecated, you undressed him, took him to the bathroom and washed him off.

"The child ran to the other end of the bath and endeavouring to get him to come back to where you could reach him ... out of frustration you grabbed the child's right-hand leg and pulled the leg out forcefully from under him. This caused the child to fall back, hitting his head on the side of the bathtub."

Justice McMeekin said it seemed Hemi then started to seizure, which led to Ireland calling 000.

Hemi's other injuries remain somewhat unexplained, but medical professionals linked some with "punching or kicking with moderate to severe force", Justice McMeekin said.

Mr Phillips said Ireland initially blamed Hemi's injuries on the boy's three-year-old sister, who was also in Ireland's care.

Later, defence lawyer Tim Ryan said Ireland had been assaulted twice while in jail, likely in connection to Hemi's death.

He also tendered a letter from Ireland, which was not read aloud, which he said detailed Ireland's remorse.

Mr Ryan said Ireland has been an alcoholic all his adult life, which aligned with the prosecution's view Ireland drunk half a bottle of scotch and several beers (alongside painkillers) on the night of Hemi's death.

Hemi's parents presented a powerful victim impact statement, which left sections of the public gallery in tears.

Summing up his thoughts, Justice McMeekin said Ireland had repeatedly been violent towards a vulnerable little boy over about two hours.

He said Ireland's drinking on the night was an aggravating factor, but said the Townsville man's guilty plea and call to 000 for help should be considered.

After sentencing, Ms Goodwin and Mr Burke said they were shattered by the result and unhappy with the legal process.

"I'm sure that the good, decent people of Australia will agree this is not justice," Mr Burke said.

"He's (Ireland) sorry for himself. He's not sorry for what he's done. He's sorry he got busted and he's probably pretty happy with his sentence. He'll be out in no time."

Mr Burke said his family will be "making inquiries into an appeal".


UPDATE, 12.45pm: A BABYSITTER who killed a Moranbah toddler has been sentenced to eight and a half years jail.

But Matthew James Ireland, who bashed Hemi Burke to death on March 26, 2015, could be eligible for parole and free from prison in less than two years, by March 24, 2019.

The 31-year-old pleaded guilty to the 18-month-old boy's manslaughter earlier this year, after the initial murder charge was downgraded.

He faced Justice Duncan McMeekin in the Supreme Court in Mackay on Monday for sentencing.

Hemi's parents Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin were supported in court by a crowd of supporters, who filled a room in Mackay Courthouse.

Ireland had spent 803 days in custody before the sentencing hearing.

INITIAL: THE parents of a toddler killed by his babysitter are readying themselves for another emotional blow ahead of sentencing today.

Hemi Burke died in the care of Matthew James Ireland in Moranbah in March 2015 when he was just 18 months old.

He was rushed to hospital with injuries including ruptured internal organs, dozens of bruises to his body and brain damage.

While Ireland has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, downgraded from a murder charge, Hemi's parent's Kerri-Ann Goodwin and Shane Burke still don't know what led to Hemi's death.

Ireland is due to be sentenced in the Supreme Court in Mackay at 11am, but Ms Goodwin and Mr Burke don't believe justice will be adequately served.

"I will be at Mackay Courthouse facing another huge injustice," Ms Goodwin wrote on Facebook.

"Not only has the Crown accepted an early plea to a lesser charge of manslaughter, the Crown will only be seeking a head sentence of eight years. That is not good enough.

"On top of that, the Crown can seek to make the killer serve 80% of that sentence, but they won't be doing that. Instead, they are more than happy to let the killer apply for parole after serving only 1/3 of that eight year sentence."

Ms Goodwin believes because Ireland has been on remand for two years and two months he would be able to apply for parole in six months.

"This is no way resembles any sort of justice," she said.

"I thought the Crown is supposed to be Hemi's voice? Come on Mr Crown you can do better than this.

" ... we begged you to recommend the maximum sentence, but instead you're worried about it being overturned or appealed. I am sick of hearing that some time is better than no time."

Meanwhile, organisation Fighters Against Child Abuse Australia has called for its followers to meet with Hemi's parents near Mackay Courthouse, at Porter's carpark, to show support.

It asked anyone attending to wear all black, as Justice for Hemi shirts - worn by Hemi's parents throughout Ireland's court appearances - have been banned from the courthouse.