The devastated dad of one of two little girls who died when their mum left them inside a hot car says she should’ve been charged with murder and jailed for 30 years – instead of the nine-year manslaughter sentence she received.
Kerri-Ann Conley, 30, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of her daughters Darcey-Helen, aged two-and-a-half, and Chloe-Ann, 18 months, last week.
Supreme Court Justice Peter Applegarth sentenced Conley to nine years behind bars, and said she had shown ‘gross criminal neglect’ when she left the toddlers in the car for nine hours, when temperatures soared past 60C inside the vehicle.
Conley had initially been charged with murder but that was downgraded, with Darcey-Helen’s father Peter Jackson being told murder was ‘too hard to prove’.
If Conley had been convicted of the double murder, under Queensland law she would’ve served a mandatory non-parole period of 30 years.
Mr Jackson said he couldn’t conceive why Conley had been able to enter a plea to a lesser charge of manslaughter.
Kerri-Ann Conley was sentenced to nine years in jail over the manslaughter of her daughters
Kerri-Ann Conley’s daughters Darcy-Helen Conley (left) and Chloe-Ann were found dead in Conley’s car, parked outside her Waterford West home in November, 2019. Picture: Supplied / Channel 9
‘I still think it should be murder. She should have got the 30 years,’ Mr Jackson told the ABC.
‘I don’t think it’s fair. These were defenceless children.’
Conley will be eligible for parole in November next year, having already served three years in custody.
She was initially charged with murder under legislation introduced just a few weeks before the incident that includes reckless indifference to human life as a form of murder.
But she pleaded guilty to the downgraded charges and to possessing dangerous drugs and utensils when arraigned last Tuesday.
The charges were downgraded to manslaughter before the case could reach a jury, with the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) admitting to Mr Jackson murder would be ‘too hard to prove’.
Peter Jackson, the father of two-and-a-half-year-old Darcy-Helen, was seen arriving at the Brisbane Supreme Court last week
The court heard of a number of instances of negligence shown by Conley and that she had made a ‘deliberate decision’ to leave the two girls in the car after arriving back at her home in the southern Brisbane suburb of Waterford West after 4am on November 23, 2019.
‘I do believe the charges should have stuck,’ Mr Jackson told the ABC.
Mr Jackson wore sunglasses as he arrived at Conley’s sentencing last week and sat in the back of the court with other family members.
The court was told Conley deliberately left the two girls in her car Instead of removing her daughters from their seats, she went inside, dawdled on her phone for a few hours and fell asleep.
Darcy-Helen and Chloe-Ann were left in the vehicle in direct sunlight for hours as temperatures climbed to 61.5 degrees.
The girls’ skin was hot to the touch, covered in burns and blisters and was ‘peeling off’ as paramedics tried to revive them, the court was told.
The court was told Conley disclosed she smoked the drug ice daily to a covert police officer while in custody.
Crown prosecutor Sarah Dennis said Conley left the children secured inside the car with the doors locked and the vehicle parked under no shade, after she returned home
But she insisted her kids ‘always came first’ and her drug use did not affect her relationship with the girls.
‘It’s an astounding statement only a drug addict could make,’ Justice Applegarth said.
He said the thought of the distressed children being awake and strapped in the hot car as they died was ‘too much to bear’.
‘Your grossly negligent conduct was deciding to leave your vulnerable children uncared for, unheard and unobserved in the dark,’ he said.
The court was told there had been previous incidences of Conley’s children being left in a hot car.
Justice Applegarth said Conley’s excuse for previous occasions where the children were left in the car was that they were ‘difficult’ to settle after being woken up.
The children’s skin was covered in blisters and was hot to touch, and peeled off as paramedics attempted to treat them, Ms Dennis said
Autopsies confirmed the girls died of hyperthermia, but a time of death could not be properly established (pictured is Peter Jackson, father of deceased toddler Darcey-Helen)
He said this begged the question of why she was coming home in the early morning hours with two young infants.
‘You should have realised the inherent risks of leaving (the children) in the car while you went inside and slept,’ Mr Applegarth said.
After taking the girls inside from the car, Conley was captured on home surveillance cameras throwing away a plastic bag that police believed contained drug residue.
A small amount of marijuana and a glass pipe were found by police during the search of her house.
The court was told Conley was genuinely remorseful for her conduct and she had experienced neglect growing up as a child.
Her drug use was described as a coping mechanism, but this was also torn apart by Justice Applegarth.
‘It simply helps explain your criminal conduct, it is not a mitigating factor,’ he said.
‘No child should have a parent who uses methamphetamine.’
Peter Jackson, the dad of one of the deceased toddlers, wore sunglasses as he arrived to court in Brisbane where Kerri-Ann Conley was sentenced for the manslaughter of his young daughter
The girls were left in the station wagon as she went inside and fell asleep, police alleged
Justice Applegarth stressed Conley’s case involved criminal negligence and accepted she did not genuinely wish to harm either of her daughters.
Autopsies confirmed the girls died of hyperthermia when the body is heated to more than 40C (not to be confused with hypothermia, which is from excessive cold) but a time of death could not be properly established.