The court heard Ireland drunkenly beat Hemi over a two-hour period while babysitting him in March 2015.
The court heard Ireland drunkenly beat Hemi over a two-hour period while babysitting him in March 2015.

BIG READ: A babysitter's lethal betrayal

HEMI Goodwin-Burke came into the world three weeks earlier than scheduled, weighing 10 pounds and had a full mop of curly hair.

He began swimming lessons at six months, could walk by eight months, and at the age of 18 months was bashed to death by his babysitter.

For hours, Townsville man Matthew James Ireland drunkenly beat Hemi at the toddler's home in Moranbah, while his parents drove to Brisbane for an important doctor's appointment in March 2015.

The little boy would eventually die in hospital from a brain injury.

Ireland pleaded guilty to a downgraded charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to 8.5 years behind bars. His parole eligibility date was set for March 2019.

Months away from the possible release of Hemi's killer, the Bulletin has spoken to the detective that led the horrific investigation and the toddler's grieving parents as they continue to fight for justice.

LEFT IN THE CARE OF A MONSTER

On March 23, 2015, Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin left 18-month-old Hemi and his two-year-old sister in the care of Matthew James Ireland.

Ms Goodwin had an appointment with a specialist doctor in Brisbane for her spine, an injury she suffered while working in the mines.

They would have driven down as a family had their van not broken down.

A family friend for a decade, Ireland and Mr Burke knew each other from working at different mining camps.

Ireland, 29 years old at the time, had been living with the Goodwin-Burkes for about three months, helping out around the house after Ms Goodwin's workplace injury.

But until he volunteered to babysit, had never been left alone with the kids.

"He promised both of us, and he shook Shane's hand that day, that he would treat our kids like they were his own," Ms Goodwin said.

The plan had been to drive back home straight after the doctor's appointment but Mr Burke was too fatigued to do the 12-hour trip, so they stayed another night.

 

Hemi Goodwin-Burke was bashed to death by Matthew James Ireland in March 2015.
Hemi Goodwin-Burke was bashed to death by Matthew James Ireland in March 2015.

 

The court heard Ireland drunkenly beat Hemi over a two-hour period while babysitting him in March 2015.
The court heard Ireland drunkenly beat Hemi over a two-hour period while babysitting him in March 2015.

 

'HEMI'S BEEN HURT'

It was about 2am on March 26 when Detective Sergeant Curtis Zealey, the head of the Moranbah Police Criminal Investigation Branch at the time, received a call from a local ambulance officer.

There was a young child at Moranbah Hospital that seemed to have lost brain function.

His pupils weren't reacting to light.

Sgt Zealey met Ireland at the hospital.

He didn't immediately suspect anything amiss, but asked Ireland to come to the station for a chat just to be safe.

The babysitter's initial story was that Hemi had suffered a seizure while he was drying him after a bath.

After the initial interview Sgt Zealey took Ireland back to the MacArthur St Queenslander home to pick up nappies and clothes for Hemi's sister.

Ireland showed the detective around the house, pointing out the bathroom and the spot where he tried to resuscitate Hemi.

"Out of curiosity I asked 'where is Hemi's room?' And he showed me," Sgt Zealey said.

"And I noticed there was blood in the cot, there was also faeces, like diarrhoea on the mattress, diarrhoea on the floor, what looked like some sort of congealed spit and blood in the cot.

"And straightaway I thought, well this is not right."

A crime scene was declared and Sgt Zealey, who was the only detective on shift at the time, called his commanding officer for back up. Then he interviewed Ireland again.

His story changed.

Ireland said Hemi had been crying uncontrollably from teething pains.

He noticed the boy had a temperature, so he decided to cool him down with a shower.

"Hemi kept running down the end of the bath away from him and he said he just lost his shit and he grabbed Hemi by the leg and pulled Hemi and Hemi's head hit the back of the bath tub," Sgt Zealey said.

Ireland was charged with grievous bodily harm.

Meanwhile, the little boy had been flown, comatose, to Townsville Hospital.

 

Matthew Ireland bashed toddler Hemi Goodwin-Burke
Matthew Ireland bashed toddler Hemi Goodwin-Burke

 

THE LITTLE BOY'S FINAL HOURS

Hemi's parents woke up about 5.30am that morning, charged their phone, and was instantly bombarded with missed calls and text messages.

"We spoke to Curtis, and I couldn't really function after what I was told and I passed the phone to Shane because I was hysterical," Ms Goodwin said.

Flights were arranged and the pair rushed in their pyjamas to the airport, then ran through Townsville Hospital to Hemi's side.

The sight of their son hooked up to the machines keeping him alive floored them.

"You could see in his eyes, they weren't really closed and you could just see that he wasn't there," Mr Burke said.

The decision was made to turn Hemi's life support off about lunch time, and his parents were given until 8pm to spend time with their only son.

"I didn't want a doctor or someone who didn't know him to turn his life support off, I wanted to do it," Mr Burke said.

"When I did that I was just hoping and praying that he would come back, but he didn't.

"I turned him off and took the tubes out and passed him to Kez, and she felt his last heartbeat."

THE INVESTIGATION

The head of Townsville Police Child Protection Investigation Unit, Detective Senior Sergeant David Miles, called Sgt Zealey, and revealed Hemi was covered in bruises.

"He sent me the photos, and the bruises were quite evident all over Hemi," Sgt Zealey said.

"There were marks on his back, bruises on his neck, and bruises over his ribs.

"I then walked in there to the cells and said mate we need to have another chat, what you've told me I don't believe."

Ireland, who had been "calm and collected", broke down when shown photos of the little boy's body.

He revealed he had been drinking, that Hemi wouldn't stop crying, that he went to the toddler's cot, pushed him down and pinned him to the bed.

 

Hemi Goodwin-Burke.
Hemi Goodwin-Burke.

A charge of torture was added, but within hours that would change, and Ireland's depravity would be further revealed during a walk-through of the house with detectives.

Ireland admitted that about lunch time the day before he had begun drinking, buying booze from two bottle shops in town, twice leaving the children unattended.

He invited a random man and woman passing by up to the house for a party. They eventually left after getting into a shouting match with Ireland.

In anger, he smashed a glass table.

Inside, Hemi continued to cry, so Ireland grabbed a plastic guitar and threw it at him.

He picked Hemi up by the torso and squeezed him "extremely hard" around the chest. Police know this from the ten bruises he left along Hemi's ribcage, in the shape of fingers.

Ireland shook Hemi and threw him on the ground, put the boy in his cot and gave him Nurofen and when he wouldn't stop crying, gave him Coca-Cola.

"Hemi continued to cry so he walked in and put both hands on his stomach and pushed him extremely hard and Hemi defecated all through the bed including passing blood," Sgt Zealey said.

"He said Hemi was bleeding from the mouth, so he then decided to put him in the shower … when Hemi ran away he grabbed his leg and reefed him.

"Hemi's head hit the corner of the bath which fractured Hemi's skull and eventually that killed him."

On the way to Mackay, where Ireland was to face court, Sgt Zealey received a call.

Hemi had died.

The charge was upgraded to murder.

MATTHEW JAMES IRELAND

Ireland was "quite intelligent". He worked at a mining camp and was a qualified chef.

It is understood Ireland has children of his own.

"He had done numerous TAFE courses … I knew that he was articulate; he wasn't a disadvantaged person whatsoever," Sgt Zealey said.

"The first time I spoke to him he was very calm, collected, never showed any signs of being upset about his actions or anything like that.

"I came to the conclusion over the four interviews that I eventually did with him that he knew exactly what he was doing, he couldn't control his temper and he's taken it out on a child."

 

Matthew Ireland bashed toddler Hemi Goodwin-Burke.
Matthew Ireland bashed toddler Hemi Goodwin-Burke.

Ireland was eventually backed into a corner by detectives, who challenged him with every piece of evidence they had.

He could have kept silent, but didn't.

"He spoke and told us the truth about how it went down, however to this day I don't believe he told us the whole truth, he only told us snippets," Sgt Zealey said.

FROM MURDER TO MANSLAUGHTER

Sgt Zealey went to Hemi's autopsy and saw for himself the horrific injuries Ireland had inflicted.

"He had broken ribs, he had a fractured skull, bleeding on the brain that caused the death, haemorrhaging to his lungs and kidneys, which the pathologist said that it can be because the body was shutting down or it could be trauma," he said.

Ireland divulged enough for police to cover the elements of murder.

"However the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had spoken to me and said they weren't happy with the pathologist report - the pathologist couldn't nail down an actual blow that caused the death," Sgt Zealey said.

Sgt Zealey, who has since moved into general duties policing as a shift supervisor at Townsville Station, believes police did everything they could to argue for a charge of murder.

They did that successfully during the committal hearing.

Ireland was meant to stand trial for the murder of Hemi but on March 21, 2017, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.

There would be no trial.

The court would hear that Ireland beat Hemi for two hours.

That his tiny body was covered in 78 separate bruises from being kicked and punched repeatedly.

About how Ireland initially lied to investigators.

 

Shane Burke helps his devastated partner Kerri-Ann Goodwin down the stairs of Mackay Courthouse after the sentencing of their son Hemi Burke's killer, Matthew James Ireland.
Shane Burke helps his devastated partner Kerri-Ann Goodwin down the stairs of Mackay Courthouse after the sentencing of their son Hemi Burke's killer, Matthew James Ireland.

The Goodwin-Burke family and supporters had worn T-shirts bearing the toddler's face at court sessions leading up to the sentencing, but were ordered by Justice Duncan McMeekin not to bring them into the Supreme Court.

The judge said he didn't want a silent protest.

Those shirts and the message they bore would later become a movement.

"If I have to sit there and look at the perpetrator's face, then surely he can sit there and look at the life he took from us, our little boy," Ms Goodwin said.

"People don't understand how Shane and I feel from the first day of holding your son, being told you've had a boy, right through till now."

Ireland was sentenced on June 5, 2017 in the Supreme Court of Mackay to 8.5 years behind bars, with parole after four.

With time already served, he is officially eligible for parole on March 29, 2019.

"You're a f***ing murderer," a man shouted from the public gallery when Ireland's sentence was handed down.

As Ireland was led away, a few people in the public gallery whipped open jackets to reveal the shirts blazing "Justice for Hemi".

"This is my grandson right here and this is a word none of you people know how to use," Hemi's grandmother yelled.

"It's called justice and you should be all ashamed of yourself.

"Imagine if this was your child or grandson, imagine, please imagine it, because it's hell on earth."

 

Kerri-Ann Goodwin and Shane Burke pictured at the community summit held in Townsville to review sentencing of child homicide offences.
Kerri-Ann Goodwin and Shane Burke pictured at the community summit held in Townsville to review sentencing of child homicide offences.

 

JUSTICE FOR HEMI

The Goodwin-Burke family were incensed. They had pleaded with the DPP to put Ireland on trial for murder.

They would have rather him be acquitted by a jury of the higher crime than be put in prison for manslaughter.

Up until the plea deal, the couple had held their tongue.

"We played along and we got nothing for it, so at that point we thought bugger it, let's make it public," Mr Burke said.

"We don't want the next child to be let down by the system."

Shane Burke and Kerri-Ann Goodwin's crusade for harsher sentencing of child killers began the day Ireland was sentenced and continues to this day.

They have lobbied politicians, travelling across Queensland for public forums.

They have printed stickers and shirts, and kept supporters up to date through raw videos on social media.

The average custodial sentence for manslaughter in Queensland is 8.3 years with offenders receiving significantly longer sentences for manslaughter of an adult, 8.5 years, than a child, 6.8 years.

The Queensland Sentencing and Advisory Council in November 2018 released a report into the sentencing of child killers, following a year-long investigation.

The nearly 300-page report stated sentences handed down for child manslaughter "do not adequately reflect the defenceless and vulnerability of child victims".

They recommended eight changes to the way courts deal with child homicide offenders, including making the killing of a child under 12 an aggravating feature of manslaughter.

The State Government has committed to implementing all eight recommendations.

It is a step forward, but the Goodwin-Burkes are adamant the government needs to go further.

"They need to start putting themselves in the victim's family's shoes, and think hey, what if I got that phone call, how in an instant your life changes," Ms Goodwin said.

 

Hemi Burke.
Hemi Burke.

 

NO END TO GRIEF

Hemi's parents spend his birthday by his grave, they still buy him presents and save a spot for him at the dinner table.

Ms Goodwin can't look at boys the same age Hemi would have been today without feeling jealousy and pain.

The couple struggle to trust anyone.

"If I could trade places with him I would do it in a heartbeat," Ms Goodwin said.

"Hemi got the death sentence, we got the life sentence … and the killer got four years. How can you call that justice?"

They want Hemi to be remembered as a "bright, beautiful, bubbly little boy" who liked to get around on his tricycle and always had a smile on his face.

"He was a life of possibilities that we will never know."



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