The mother of a baby shaken to death by her then-partner says she felt like she had taken her last breath when daughter Alanah took hers.
Stephanie Knibbs and her family made the “hardest decision of my life” on August 30, 2015 – turning off the life support for her child, the day before she turned three months old.
A day earlier Joby Rowe had forcibly shaken Alanah in an effort to stop the infant crying, causing fatal injuries, a court heard earlier this month.
Rowe, of Heathcote, was found guilty of child homicide by a jury on August 3.
A series of victim impact statements were read in the Supreme Court at a pre-sentence hearing in Bendigo on Monday.
Ms Knibbs’ statement read: “I never imagined coming home that day to see my baby lifeless.”
“I replay the image of her lying on the couch with the paramedic tending to her all the time in my head. Having to turn my baby's life support off was the hardest decision of my life, a decision that no parent should have to make.
“When Alanah took her last breath I felt as though I took mine.
“Alanah should be starting kinder. But instead we now visit her in the cemetery. I will never hear her tell me she loves me.
“I’m a waitress and have to clean down high chairs which I’m unable to do as it triggers my trauma.
“I dream about Alanah, I can hear her crying.
“I place Alanah in her tiny coffin. I felt like my heart had been ripped out and stood on.”
Rowe, 26, maintained his innocence throughout the lengthy court proceedings.
Rowe’s first trial in 2017 ended with the jury unable to reach a verdict. Jurors in the second trial, which finished earlier this month, took a day to reach the guilty verdict.
“I'm hurt Joby wasn’t honest from the start, there was plenty of opportunity for him to admit the truth,” Ms Knibbs’ statement read.
“I never thought he would lie about his daughter. To drag us through the court system for so long shows he has no guilt. He has made me go through the trials and the terrifying ordeal of giving evidence when he has sat there with the answer.”
Alanah’s step-grandmother, Joy Knibbs, went to the home and, along with Stephanie, tried to resuscitate Alanah while waiting for an ambulance to arrive in August 2015.
Ms Knibbs’ statement was also read in court.
She said the “hurt and anger” over what happened will always be there.
“The image of Alanah lying on the floor with no one near her will never change,” the statement read.
“I close my eyes at night and all I see is her. It gives me nightmares.
“It has been three long years of trying to pick up the pieces. Organising a funeral for a baby was so hard.”
Ms Knibbs said, via the statement, the events of August 2015 had changed the lives of her family.
“At the end of the day it’s all about Alanah, that we never got to know and never will.”
Aside from reading out victim impact statements, prosecutor Ben Ihle, made few verbal submissions to Justice Terence Forrest.
Mr Ihle told the court the maximum penalty Justice Forrest could impose for the child homicide offence was 20 years imprisonment.
Rowe’s defence counsel, barrister James Fitzgerald, told the court Rowe had led an unassuming, hardworking life prior to the incident.
The court heard Rowe formed a relationship with a woman from interstate while he was on bail awaiting trial, with whom he has an eight-month-old child.
Mr Fitzgerald told the court Rowe’s partner has three other children, all under the age of 12.
“He was described as a most loving, gentle and patient father and he would have daily contact with her and his child,” Mr Fitzgerald said. The court heard Rowe had been isolated in prison due to the nature of his charges.
Mr Fitzgerald said Rowe was not allowed a photograph of his young son in prison, an issue which the court heard was being “taken on in the corrections hierarchy”.
The defence lawyer described Rowe’s crime as “aberrant lapse brought about on the prosecution's case by a combination of his fatigue at working and the more consistent crying that had been taking place on her (Alanah’s) part”.
“He is a young man with no prior convictions and those two factors alone suggest that your honour needs to give rehabilitation some real consideration in your sentencing considerations,” Mr Fitzgerald told the court.
“He has a good working history and there is positive social evidence about him that suggests very good prospects of rehabilitation.”
The court heard Rowe remained devastated by the loss of his child.
Justice Forrest told the court there was a distinction between grief and remorse.
“It's incompatible with his plea of not guilty and it's particularly incompatible with the fact that he did not provide an accurate history to the treating paramedics, the doctors, or anyone else during Alanah's short surviving life,” Justice Forrest said.
Justice Forrest described Rowe’s offending as an “isolated moment of madness”.
Rowe, who has served 481 days of pre-sentence detention, will be sentenced on Friday.