Queensland teen's murderer sentenced

Daniel Morecombe
Daniel Morecombe

The serial paedophile found guilty of murdering Queensland schoolboy Daniel Morcombe has been sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 20 years to be served.

The crown prosecution argued that Brett Peter Cowan should be jailed without parole for longer than the mandatory minimum 15 years.

On Thursday, jurors found the 44-year-old father of three guilty of indecently dealing with 13-year-old Daniel, murdering him and interfering with his corpse after luring him from a Sunshine Coast bus stop on December 7, 2003.

After deliberating for almost eight hours, the jury was discharged on Thursday after reaching a unanimous verdict.

Fairfax Media could then reveal Cowan’s perverted sexual past, which includes horrific sex attacks on boys in Brisbane and Darwin in 1987 and 1993, for which he served nine years in jail.

Cowan was arrested after an elaborate undercover police operation that began on the plane back from Daniel's coronial inquest in 2011. 

During sentencing submissions before Supreme Court justice Rosyln Atkinson, crown prosecutor Michael Byrne QC argued Cowan deserved a longer sentence.

He cited Cowan’s previous convictions, which the jury was not told about, including the rape of boys aged six and seven.

But Cowan’s defence lawyer, Angus Edwards, argued his client deserved a more lenient sentence because he didn’t intentionally kill Daniel.

Brett Peter Cowan
Brett Peter Cowan

At the time of his abduction, Daniel had been waiting at a bus stop to take a trip to buy Christmas presents and get a haircut at Sunshine Plaza in Maroochydore. The bus he was waiting for broke down, leaving him at the stop for 45 minutes until another bus was scheduled.

Daniel’s parents Bruce and Denise have tendered victim impact statements describing the anguish of losing their son at the hands of a child molester.

With Cowan present in the courtroom, Denise Morcombe described him as a ‘‘perverted soul’’ who underestimated the Morcombe family’s drive to catch Daniel’s killer.

‘‘That was your mistake, you evil, evil, unhuman thing,’’ she wrote.

Sentences could lead sex offenders to kill

The judge in the Daniel Morcombe murder trial says the case highlights arguments against tougher sentences for sex offenders.

Justice Roslyn Atkinson says she is concerned harsher jail terms would act as a "perverse incentive" to offenders to kill their victims.

The Newman government has introduced some of the country's toughest child sex-offender laws since it came to power, including life imprisonment with a 20-year non-parole period for serious repeat offenders.

Murderers face the same minimum sentence.

The judge made her comments on Friday, just before sentencing Daniel's killer Brett Peter Cowan, 44, to life imprisonment including 20 years without parole.

"People who call for longer sentences, harsher sentences, for sex offenders need to consider the evidence in this case, that Mr Cowan killed Daniel Morcombe to avoid detection," Justice Atkinson told the Supreme Court in Brisbane on Friday.

"And if the sentence for a sex offence is the same as the sentence for a murder, my concern is that it would act as a perverse incentive to offenders to kill victims.

"Killing a victim is worse than sexual offending against a victim and this case is an example of that."

Cowan had two convictions for molesting children before 2003, when he abducted and killed Daniel, 13, on the Sunshine Coast.

His more recent before that was in 1994 when he was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for the horrific sexual assault of a six-year-old boy.

The former tow-truck driver served only half that term.

Tough stance to continue: A-G

Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said the government would continue to take the toughest stance on child-sex offenders.

"Everything we have done has been about preventing other families from going through what the Morcombes have had to endure," he said in a statement.

"We want Queensland to be the safest place to raise a child and we will do whatever we can to protect the most vulnerable in our community."

Cowan, a father of three, was also sentenced on Friday to three-and-a-half years' jail for indecently dealing with Daniel and two years for interfering with his corpse, to be served concurrently with his murder sentence.

The judge was required to sentence Cowan to a non-parole period of at least 15 years, but said she felt Cowan's crimes warranted a harsher penalty.

"Everything about what you did to that child was horrific and disgraceful," she told Cowan in the Brisbane courtroom.

"This is not just a murder, but a terrible murder. It has had widespread and shocking impacts."

The judge said Cowan had never shown any remorse for what he did, apart from feeling sorry for himself.

She added that his opportunistic offending in broad daylight drove "fear into the hearts" of everyone in the community.

Child protection advocate Hetty Johnston said Queensland laws needed to be changed to make it easier for judges to sentence paedophiles to even harsher sentences.

"This man should never, ever see the light of day again and whatever happened today should have made sure that sealed it," she told reporters outside court.

"I would have liked to have seen him just [get] life [for] life - you know, 50 years, 100 years no parole, just never let him out."

Daniel vanished while waiting for a bus at Woombye on the Sunshine Coast on December 7, 2003.

His remains were found in bushland at the Glass House Mountains in the Sunshine Coast hinterland in August and September 2011.

Daniel's parents, Bruce and Denise Morcombe, now child safety campaigners, were not in court, choosing to attend a fund-raiser instead.

Reward Morcombe officers: Newman

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman says the undercover police officers who brought Daniel's murderer to justice should be rewarded.

The prosecution case succeeded after jurors were shown footage of Cowan confessing to the killing of 13-year-old Daniel in the presence of undercover police officers posing as members of a national criminal syndicate.

Asked if these officers needed to be rewarded for their undercover work in 2011, Mr Newman agreed.

"There are many ways that they can be acknowledged and rewarded for their efforts," the Premier told reporters in Houston, Texas.

"Just getting this result, having the satisfaction of bringing a predator like this to justice is reward enough for their great efforts."

But Police Commissioner Ian Stewart, who decides such rewards, expressed dismay that undercover police methods needed to be aired before a jury to secure Cowan's conviction.

"The more widely it's known, the less effective it becomes," Mr Stewart told reporters in Brisbane.

-Fairfax Media and AAP