Mother's plea to drug users

THE TRIAL: Harley Hicks was found guilty of baby Zayden Veal-Whitting's murder.

CASEY Veal was to celebrate her birthday and resume university studies on March 5, but instead she was in the Supreme Court facing her son's killer.

Casey's son, baby Zayden Veal-Whitting, was bludgeoned to death in his cot in the early hours of June 15, 2012 and after a five-week trial, a Supreme Court jury last month found Harley Hicks guilty of the infant's murder.

Hicks was high on ice and out committing a series of burglaries in the Long Gully area overnight on June 14/15, when he entered Zayden’s Eaglehawk Road home and repeatedly struck the infant to the head with a home-baton baton.

He will be sentenced in the coming weeks, and while the Crown has called for life with a minimum term, Casey hopes he never walks free.

"It makes me mad that maybe in 30 years when he is 51 ... he could live happily,'' she said. 

"He took Zayden's life, he took what was left of mine and James (Zayden's father), and anybody else around us who had any hope for the future.

"He can, in the long run, get privileges if he does the right thing ... but what gives him the right? Zayden never got to go to kinder, let alone primary school or high school or uni.

"But there's nothing I can do about it other than sit at the parole hearings every time they come and in 25 or 30 years, Xavier will be old enough to stand up against him at a parole hearing. He will be able to say I'm now an adult and this is what it has done to me.''

Casey says Xavier is the forgotten victim of Zayden's death.

Her victim impact statement read by the Crown in court focused on Xavier and the effects of his brother's death.

It has taken some time for Xavier to believe that not everyone who goes to hospital dies - and his open way of talking about his brother's death can leave both children and adults not knowing how to respond.

"He is pretty open and a lot of kids don't understand or some adults don't know what to do with it,'' Casey said. "We will sometimes find him crying, but he is really good with it, and he keeps me strong a lot of days.

"I'm not the mum I was to him before - sometimes I struggle to even connect with Xavier because I'm just too removed, or he's just done something or said something that's really upset me and he doesn't realise it.

"Things like 'oh mum I know what I want to get you for your birthday, but I don't want to tell you it will make you sad'.. and then he is like 'I just wish Zayden would come back, just for today please'.

"Just having him say that and seeing him so sad and knowing we don't play like we used to, connect like we used to. Now we're a lot more removed from each other and he gets upset and it's just not fair.

"That's another reason why I think Harley should have life in prison, because we don't get ours back.''

But Casey hopes others will learn from her son's death and stop using crystal-methamphetamine.

While she says the drug was not responsible for the murder, users needed to be more aware of the consequences when they choose to use ice.

"I blame Harley Hicks for Zayden's death, more than I blame ice because it's like any drug, you drink alcohol and then drive and hurt someone it's not the alcohol's fault, guns don't kill people - people kill people,'' she said.

"He made those conscious decisions to keep getting on it and to continually keep using it to the point where he was going out and stealing things because he couldn't maintain his habit by himself.

"So he became a massive criminal just to support his habit, which he had to have known was wrong - you have to know it's rock bottom, that's a no-no.

"So if it's offered to you, think of Zayden, or think about whether or not you could forgive yourself for hurting someone ... whether it be an infant like Zayden, or your best friend, your mum or your own animal.

"That drug will destroy you and make you a completely different person. It turns people into monsters. It makes them inhumane because after a while all that matters is the next hit.

"I ask them to think about Zayden - or imagine losing one of your own kids.''

Casey says she knew of the dangers of ice before Zayden's death, but wasn't aware of the extent of violence perpetrated by users, or that the legal system's response when dealing with drug-affected criminals was so "pathetic''.

Hicks has a history of criminal offences. He was sentenced for arm robbery just months before he killed Zayden, and was on the run from police three days before the murder.

Casey says had he been dealt with adequately by the legal system, her son may still be alive.

Instead, she will forever be asking why a burglar broke into her home and took a defenceless child's life. Her defenceless child. 

Hicks is yet to show any remorse for the killing.

"Even the judge said, the door was right there,'' Casey said. 

"He could have opened and run out that door just like he did the people before, and they were adults ... who he ran away from without shoes. And then he comes into my house and beats an infant. He made a conscious choice. All we want is that one answer, but he sat in court ignoring what was happening, and we want one, just one answer - why?''

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