Belinda Lee Edmonds
Sentenced to just 5 years in August 2000
Increased by the Crown to 8 years on appeal
Released October 2005
NZ Herald story 19th August 2000
Mereana Te Mana Motuhake Edmonds was a happy little girl who lived most of her six years with her beloved Nanny in Hawkes Bay. Then she went to stay with her mother - and her life turned into a living hell. From almost the moment she arrived to live in Hamilton in December 1998, Mereana was brutally bashed, punched, slapped and kicked. She was rarely without bruises, her collarbone was broken and her ribs were fractured. As punishment for wetting her pants or the bed, the little girl spent nights locked in a dark shed outside her house or was violently slung into the wash-house.
She was kicked so hard she lost her sense of balance and was unable to walk around the house without hitting furniture or walls. She was often picked up by her hair. Once, she was slammed backwards into a hard object with such force that her brain rebounded off the front of her skull. Mereana almost escaped her abusive world. In May last year, plans were made for her to return to Flaxmere to live with Nanny. But too late. On May 10, 1999, Mereana was found dead in her Hamilton home. Yesterday in the High Court at Hamilton, her mother, Belinda Edmonds, aged 32, was jailed for five years on a charge of manslaughter.
Edmonds' partner, 31-year-old Dorothy Tipene, was jailed for 18 months on a charge of cruelty to a child. Justice Grant Hammond acknowledged that Mereana's death was the cumulative result of "a difficult life" and that Edmonds' psychological problems contributed to her actions. Mereana died as a result of violence. She was also conceived as a result of it - Edmonds was raped at 26. In normal circumstances names of rape victims are suppressed, but Justice Hammond told the Weekend Herald that in this case Edmonds' name could be revealed because a charge of rape was never laid.
Despite the lack of a criminal conviction, he said, the court accepted that Mereana was conceived by rape. The third of eight children, Edmonds became a solvent abuser at the age of 10 and later a repeat offender. She started living on the streets after leaving school in the third form. Edmonds has 48 convictions - 42 for anti-social crimes such as theft, five for assault and one for cannabis possession. Most of her siblings have also been through the courts. A brother in the Mongrel Mob was recently jailed for 10 years.
During her pregnancy, Edmonds sought treatment in a Hanmer Springs drug and alcohol rehabilitation programme, where she met Tipene. Mereana was born in Hastings on November 24, 1992. She lived with her mother on and off for 18 months before going to live with her grandmother, Haraiata Edmonds. Mereana's next 4 1/2 years were those of a normal childhood. She went to Peterhead School, where teachers regarded her as a real character with a sense of humour. Principal Tim Anderson said Mereana "simply adored her Nanny." Teachers remembered her as a sparkling, happy child. News of her death "crushed everyone."
In 1998, Edmonds decided her daughter should live with her in Hamilton. The pair first lived at the YWCA but even in the early stages caring for Mereana was a struggle for Edmonds. In court yesterday, her lawyer, Herman Roose, said Edmonds had conflicting feelings for Mereana. On one hand, she felt motherly emotions and affection. On the other, her personal problems, especially the rape, made it difficult to care for the little girl. Eventually, Mereana, Edmonds and Tipene all lived together in a Boundary Rd house and Mereana was enrolled in Hamilton East Primary School.
But the school was troubled by her behaviour. On hot days she would arrive wearing full-length clothing, then refuse to go swimming. She was sometimes too scared to get off the school bus to go home, and would cling, crying, to the legs of one of the teachers. The school notified Child, Youth and Family Services. Board of trustees chairwoman Bev Cooper will not say what follow-up came from that call, or how many times the school called CYFS, but is confident the school acted appropriately.
But sources told the Weekend Herald that CYFS made one phone call to Mereana's home to ask if there was a problem with her care, and was told by one of the accused that all was well. No other call, no home visit and no follow-up were made. CYFS will not discuss Mereana's case except to say its actions were "appropriate" and would not be reviewed - a decision made by chief social worker Mike Doolan with the Commissioner for Children's backing. Asked if a single phonecall to one of the people alleged to be abusing the child was appropriate, a CYFS spokesperson was "not sure if we're prepared to comment on that."
Two weeks before Mereana's death, Edmonds was reaching crisis point. The abuse was out of control and she was having intensive counselling. Around this time plans were made for Mereana to return to her Nanny. But she didn't get there. Edmonds and Tipene were both charged with manslaughter on December 14 last year. Tipene's charge was later reduced to one of cruelty. At a depositions hearing this year, a pathologist said Mereana had suffered three major brain traumas before her death, caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain.
One, from a severe blow, was received about two hours before she died. The child had numerous other injuries - bruises and abrasions all over her body and even a bite mark made by an adult. Yesterday, Justice Hammond told Edmonds she was "clearly a grossly damaged person." He called Tipene "a distinct agent in the death of Mereana." He acknowleged that both women were remorseful about their action, especially Edmonds, who in evidence to police said: "I never really hugged her. Now I know I loved her, I wish I could have another chance with her."
NZ Herald story 1st December 2000
The Hamilton mother and her lesbian lover jailed for the death of 6-year-old Mereana Edmonds have been given longer sentences to reflect the prolonged cruelty and neglect the little girl suffered. The Court of Appeal in Wellington yesterday released its reserved decision, saying the sentencing judge "took a much too lenient view of the offending." In October, the Crown appealed against the original sentences, which had resulted in Belinda Edmonds, the child's mother, being sentenced to jail for five years for manslaughter and her partner, Dorothy Tipene, to 18 months for cruelty to a child.
Three years have now been added to Edmonds' jail term and nine months to Tipene's. Mereana Edmonds lived with her mother for only five months, moving to Hamilton from Hawkes Bay where she had been brought up by her nanny. But in those five months she was repeatedly bashed, punched, slapped and kicked. As punishment for wetting her bed, she would be locked in a wash-house, or picked up by her hair and slung into an outside shed to spend the night. Mereana was battered so much that she lost her balance and was unable to walk without banging into furniture or walls.
Mereana's death was the result of prolonged blows to the head - one so hard her brain rebounded off the front of her skull. She died in her mother's house in May last year. During the Court of Appeal hearing, crown counsel John Pike said the fact that Mereana had been conceived by rape should not have been a factor in the original sentencing. "The child of rape is less protected in criminal law against death at the hands of its mother? That can't be right," he said. Usually the names of rape victims are suppressed, but at Edmonds' sentencing the judge ruled that her name could be used because a charge of rape had never been laid.
Yesterday, the Court of Appeal said there could be no question "but that the sentences imposed in this case must reflect society's denunciation of prolonged cruelty and neglect. "While each offender can herself be described as a victim of past abuse, society cannot countenance condoning what was done and allowed to be done. "The duration of the cruelty inflicted on this poor young victim, the nature of the injuries and the neglect by the child's mother and caregiver are of the most serious degree." The Court of Appeal's decision has placed Edmonds' sentence in the middle bracket of an area where the sentences vary. At the upper end of the scale, Edward Smith and Tania Witika each received 16 years' jail for the manslaughter of Delcelia Witika, aged 2.
Last year, Benny Haerewa was sentenced to 12 years' jail for manslaughter after using a brass tack-hammer, a steel vacuum-cleaner pipe and a jug cord to beat Hawkes Bay 4-year-old James Whakaruru to death. Also last year, Mathew Iorangi, of Tokoroa, began a 4 1/2-year sentence for the manslaughter of 17-month-old Pirimai Simmonds. The tot died after being thrown across the room into a wall for grizzling during a televised rugby match. In 1996, Damion Peterson, of Dargaville, was jailed for five years for the manslaughter of his 10-month-old daughter, Jillayne, who died after being punched in the stomach.
Most recently, Rose Matiu was jailed for seven years for the manslaughter of her 3-year-old son, Tangaroa. Her partner, Genesis Mahanga, is serving a life sentence for the little boy's murder. Justice Minister Phil Goff says mitigating circumstances of each case can make a difference to the sentence handed down, but "that's not to say inconsistencies haven't occurred." A fundamental principle in sentencing was to ensure people who committed similar crimes were penalised in the same way. Mr Goff said a sentencing review by the Ministry of Justice, to be completed soon, should address inconsistencies.
Date of Birth
1968 (D.O.B. is approximate)
At large in the Wanganui area
Additional Photos & Files
Associated Media Links Court adds three years for child's killing
Dorothy Parehikihiki Tipene - Belinda Lee Edmonds Appeal Notes