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An online candlelight vigil was held in the memory of four-year-old Willow Dunn last night.

The Queensland Government passed laws in May 2019, expanding the legal definition of murder so that it includes reckless indifference to human life.

The laws were introduced following controversial manslaughter cases in Queensland. Many unlawful child killings in Queensland have previously resulted in the offender being convicted of manslaughter rather than murder.

Why? The main difference between murder and manslaughter is the element of intent. The Prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that the offender intended to kill the victim.

The decision of R v Moloney [1985] AC 905 held that the mental element in murder consists of an intention to kill or cause really serious injury – not merely foresight that death or serious injury will be a probable consequence. Therefore, if an unlawful killing occurs and the mental element is not proven, the offender will be guilty of manslaughter, per s 303(1) of the Criminal Code (Qld) 1899.

Hemi Goodwin-Burke was only 18 months old when he was “crushed like a coke can” by his babysitter. However, because intent could not be proven, the murder charge was downgraded to manslaughter. Hemi’s babysitter was sentenced to only eight and a half years imprisonment. He was eligible for parole after serving only 4 years.

Under the expanded definition, “death is caused by an act done, or omission made, with reckless indifference to human life”. An unlawful killing in that circumstance is known as murder by reckless indifference. The new laws mean that intent will no longer need to be proved for murder by reckless indifference and the offender will be facing murder’s mandatory life imprisonment penalty

The first offender charged under this new law was Kerri-Ann Conley. She was charged with two counts of murder after she left her one and two-year-old daughters inside a black station wagon at their home in Logan. Her daughters were declared dead at the scene – cause of death was exposure to extreme heat.

Willow Dunn’s father will be the second offender charged. The allegations emerging of reckless indifference suffered by Willow are too despicable to list.  

Hemi’s parent’s believe the new laws are too long coming for justice to be served on Hemi’s babysitter, however the laws are a step in the right direction for other families who want justice for their vulnerable children.

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