SYDNEY (AFP) - An Australian woman who killed her six-year-old daughter and dumped the body after years of abuse was jailed on Thursday, in a case that has sparked an emotional outpouring from the community.
Kiesha Weippeart's badly decomposed and partially burnt body was found in a bush grave eight months after she was reported missing by her mother Kristi Anne Abrahams in July 2010.
Abrahams, 30, kept the child's body in a suitcase in her bedroom for several days before taking it by taxi to a forested area and burying it in a shallow plot. There was evidence of sustained abuse of the child in the months before her death, which was caused by multiple blows to the head, including one "consistent with being punched in an upward direction" which broke her teeth, said sentencing Supreme Court Judge Ian Harrison.
There were emotional scenes in court as Judge Harrison sentenced Abrahams to a maximum 22-and-a-half years in prison - 16 years without parole - for killing Weippeart and interfering with her corpse by "unceremoniously" dumping it in the bush and burning it in an attempt to conceal evidence.
"The offender caused the death of the deceased by the infliction of a violent, lethal force upon what was a vulnerable and defenceless child in her care who was entitled to expect and receive her protection," Judge Harrison said, noting that Abrahams had been "publicly vilified".
"The death of a child stirs many emotions in the community, not the least of which I strongly suspect is guilt."
The killing has rocked suburban Mount Druitt in Sydney, where Abrahams lived, and a group of locals packed the courtroom for the sentencing, applauding and shouting as the lengthy prison term was handed down.
Abrahams' neighbour Alison Anderson dismissed the parallels drawn by Judge Harrison between the "foreseeable and preventable" murder and Abrahams' own abuse as a child, also blaming child protection authorities for failing Weippeart.
She was taken into state care after Abrahams bit her at the age of 15 months, but was returned to her 18 months later. Weippeart attended school just four days in her short life, so Abrahams could keep evidence of her injuries hidden.
"Does having a bad upbringing and abuse give you the right to go and take people's lives?" said Ms Anderson. "It's not good enough. We're all in shock; it's shocked the community, it's shocked everyone."
The officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Inspector Russell Oxford, said the case had affected all those who worked on it.
"I think if nothing else comes out of today we all should take stock of where we are in this world, and go home and hug your kids," Mr Oxford told reporters. "Look after them, let them grow up and have opportunities that this little girl didn't have."