SUPREME COURT OF QUEENSLAND

CRIMINAL JURISDICTION

ATKINSON J

Indictment No 323 of 2013

THE QUEEN v. BRETT PETER COWAN

BRISBANE 11.50 AM, FRIDAY, 14 MARCH 2014

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HER HONOUR: Brett Peter Cowan, also known as Shaddo N-Unyah Hunter – stand up. You have been convicted by the jury on one count of murder, one count of indecent treatment of a child under 16 and one count of interfering with a corpse. 5 The circumstances of your offending were described by you in chilling detail to undercover police. You described to them in detail your abduction and killing of Daniel Morcombe. On your account, which the jury accepted as true and accurate, as do I, you saw Daniel Morcombe standing waiting for a bus under the Kiel Mountain Road overpass. You knew that the bus he was waiting for had broken down. You saw an opportunity. You parked your car, you stood behind him, you waited. You were, in your own words, an opportunistic offender. You were waiting for an opportunity. When the bus went past him because it had been arranged that another bus, following shortly afterwards, would pick him up, he did not know that. He wondered what he would do. You offered a plausible story. You were waiting, you said, for a friend. You would now have to drive to Maroochydore to pick up your friend. Would he like a lift? You didn’t look like a monster. You didn’t look like a paedophile. You looked like an ordinary person. You persuaded him that that would be a safe thing for him to do. He walked with you to your car. He got in your car. You had, as you said, no intention of taking him to the shopping centre. You were just thinking about what you could do with him. You drove to that very isolated area at the end of Kings Road. You wanted to get him into the house. You went in. Again, you thought of a plausible story: “The missus is offering you a glass of water. Come inside.” He didn’t know what your intentions were. When you got him inside, you indecently dealt with him. You attempted to pull down his pants. He was obviously horrified. He resisted and tried to run away. You knew that if he ran away, he would be able to identify you, your car, the place where you’d taken him, your registration number. You knew that if he ran away, you’d be caught, so you killed him. You killed him because you didn’t want to get caught. You killed him intending to kill him. And how did you treat that poor child’s dead body? And I should say, when you killed him, it must have taken you more than a few seconds. He would have been unconscious within a few seconds, but then two or three minutes to kill him, which helps to show what your intention was while you were strangling him. You put his body in the back of your car. You drove to the old sandmining site. You threw his body down the embankment and then dragged him to an even more isolated area. You took his clothing off in case there was any evidence of your existence on that clothing and because his clothing was bright and might attract attention. You covered him with branches and left him. When you returned a week later, his body was for the most part gone, no doubt disturbed and torn apart by wild animals. Everything about what you did to that child is horrific and disgraceful. You threw his clothing into a fast-running creek, again to avoid its being found. This is not just a murder, but a terrible murder. It has had widespread and shocking impacts, of course and primarily, on his family, his parents and, of course, his two
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brothers, particularly his twin brother, but you gave no thought to them and it’s not apparent to me that you’ve ever given any thought to that or to them. I’ve seen no evidence in the months that you’ve been in this court and in the times where I’ve heard you talk about this offence that you ever felt any remorse for what you did apart from feeling sorry for yourself that you might get caught. Of course, it’s had an impact on the wider community. The abduction of a child in broad daylight by a stranger is very unusual. For that, we can all be extremely grateful. Most children who are the victim of offences unfortunately are the victim of those offences from people they trust or people they know. But the fear of the stranger drives fear into the hearts of everyone in the community that vulnerable children might be taken by a predator like you and dealt with in this way, and the reaction to this case over the many years since it happened has shown the fear and revulsion caused to ordinary members of the community by your behaviour. So these are chilling and disgraceful crimes. I move on to you and your personal circumstances. You are a man who is now 44 years old. You were 34 when you committed these offences. You had an apparently normal upbringing, but you have committed terrible crimes throughout your life, escalating in your offending. When I talk about your upbringing, of course, it reminds me of other victims of these crimes: your family, your parents, your siblings and, most terrible of all, your own children, who will forever be associated with you and your name. Your criminal history commenced when you were 17, when you were convicted of offences of breaking and entering and unlawful use of a motor vehicle. That was followed fairly quickly after with similar offences. Now, many young people commit offences of that type. They learn their lesson; we never see them again. But that was not the case with you. On the 8th of September 1989, you were convicted of indecent dealing with a boy under 14 years. That was committed on the 5th of December 1987. The circumstances of that offending are set out in the sentencing remarks in the District Court. The boy was seven years old. You were acquitted of the offence of sodomy. Given the circumstances of the offence and that that was your first offence for something of this kind, you were sentenced to two years imprisonment. Again, there are many people who commit an offence of that type and never come near the criminal courts again, and unfortunately that was not the case with you. You continued to offend in minor ways but most importantly, you went to the Northern Territory, and there you committed a horrific series of offences against a small boy who was only six. Again, you just took advantage of an opportunity to commit acts of sexual violence against this child. You were convicted of unlawfully causing grievous bodily harm, an aggravated act of gross indecency and deprivation of liberty. You were sentenced to seven years imprisonment. On this occasion, you took a different tack. You were capable of, you said, and would undergo rehabilitation. You were transferred to Queensland prisons and underwent a sexual offenders course. You pretended you were keen to be
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rehabilitated, which brings me to another aspect of your personality that I’ve been able to observe in the months that you’ve been before me. As I accepted during the pre-trial hearing, you are a convincing and adaptable liar and you’re prepared to lie in order to advantage yourself. Whenever anyone is considering the prospect of granting you parole many years in the future, they should mark my words that you are a convincing, plausible and adaptable liar and prepared to lie to advance your own interests. Any profession of being rehabilitated by you would have to be seen in that light. I’ve had before me in the sentencing hearing the victim impact statement from various members of the Morcombe family, whose statements were moderate, and dignified, but expressed the deep pain that your actions have imposed upon their lives, pain that can never go away. You have tragically and pointlessly snuffed out a young life. It’s Daniel Morcombe, of course, who’s the victim of this offence by your killing him in circumstances where he would have felt great fear. Another insight into your personality comes from your demeanour after you had told Arnold what you did. As I said in the pre-trial hearing, you appeared very happy with yourself and unconcerned about the enormity of the crime to which you had just confessed. Indeed, you expressed your confidence about not being prosecuted because you couldn’t be pinned for it. Of course, you thought you were very smart, but you weren’t as smart as the police who’d investigated you, and while you were saying that, you were saying it being tape-recorded and video-recorded to a very senior police officer, which just shows that you were not quite as smart as you thought you were. The sentencing principles which apply in this State are set out in the Penalties and Sentences Act, in particular in section 9 of the Penalties and Sentences Act. Section 9(1) provides the only purposes for which sentences may be imposed on an offender. They are to punish the offender to an extent or in a way that is just in all the circumstances; to provide conditions in the Court’s order that the Court considers will help the offender to be rehabilitated, something which, as I’ve said, I don’t think applies in your case; to deter you or other people from committing the same or a similar offence; to make it clear that the community, acting through the Court, denounces the sort of conduct in which you were involved; and to protect the Queensland community from the offender. In my view, in this case, the principal purposes of this sentence are to punish you, to deter others from committing similar crimes, to make it clear that the community, acting through the Court, denounces your conduct, and to protect the Queensland community from you. For the offence of murder the only sentence available is life imprisonment, and yours is a case where that sentence is certainly appropriate. For the reasons set out by the learned Senior Prosecutor in his address, I am able to set a parole eligibility date later than the 15 years which is the statutory minimum. In view of your criminal history and the enormity of the crimes that you have

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committed, it is appropriate in my view to set a parole eligibility date after you have served 20 years of your sentence, but let me make it clear that does not mean that I am of the view that you should be released in 20 years time. That is not under my control. That’s a matter for the parole authorities. But, as I’ve said, they should take into account that you are a plausible and opportunistic liar before they consider any view you might have about whether or not you’ve been rehabilitated. I’ve taken into account that you suffer from emphysema but accept that such conditions can be managed in jail and should not moderate the sentence imposed upon you. With regard to count 2, although it led to the heinous crime of murder, it is not in the absolute worst category of this crime, that is, the indecent dealing. I sentence you to a sentence of three and a half years imprisonment to be served concurrently with the period of life imprisonment. Count 3 is of course the worst example of this offence that one can imagine, and I sentence you to the maximum available to me, which is two years imprisonment, to be served concurrently.

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20 I record convictions. I declare that you have been in custody with regard to these charges and these charges only since the 13th of August 2011, a period of 945 days. And I declare that as time spent in custody under this sentence. 25 As I’ve said – and can I repeat – I’ve thanked a lot of people, but can I particularly thank counsel, all counsel, and the solicitors instructing them for their conduct of this trial, which has, in my view, been exemplary. Adjourn the court. ______________________ 30

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