• The killers of Moko Rangitoheriri will spend at least nine years in jail after a judge yesterday imposed the highest sentence in New Zealand for manslaughter against a child.
• As thousands rallied to demand justice and an end to child abuse, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson defended the charges, saying murder convictions would have been hard to secure.
• Moko's mother told the court: "This year he would have turned 5 and I would have got him ready for school, but instead I had to bury him."
The last days of his short life were terrifying but the memory of Moko Rangitoheriri has touched New Zealanders.
On the day the toddler's killers were each sentenced to 17 years' jail, thousands of Kiwis turned out in Justice for Moko marches around the country.
They were angry - angry at our shameful record of child abuse and angry about the decision not to proceed with murder charges against Moko's killers.
Instead, Tania Shailer, 26, and David Haerewa, 43, admitted manslaughter after the more serious charge was dropped.
Moko's mother, Nicola Dally-Paki, said last night she accepted and respected the sentence, but nothing short of life would be enough.
"Moko's never coming back," Ms Dally-Paki told TV3's Story.
"After 17 years he's still gone ... I will be going to their parole hearings and opposing parole every time they apply."
Shailer was supposed to be Ms Dally-Paki's friend, but since killing Moko she hadn't been in touch and hadn't expressed remorse. Instead, she and Haerewa had tried to blame Moko for his fate, saying he was a difficult child.
"Disgusting," Ms Dally-Paki said, labelling the killers "poor excuses for humans".
Seventeen years' jail was, sentencing judge Justice Sarah Katz said, the highest for child manslaughter in New Zealand. Shailer and Haerewa must serve at least nine years.
The pair were supposed to be caring for Moko at their Taupo home while his mother was in Starship hospital with her eldest child.
• Moko's mum: 'I have a horrible pain in my heart'
• Moko's killers jailed for 'campaign of violence'
• Live blog: March for Moko - crowds seek justice over killing of toddler
• Little boy lost: Moko's story, and his violent and tragic last days
• How could this sickening abuse happen again?
• Retired judge on why it was manslaughter and not murder
Instead, the pair tortured the 3-year-old until he could resist no more - he was pronounced dead on August 10 last year.
He was covered in bruises from head to toe and internally he was broken. The official cause of death was multiple blunt force traumas.
Shailer and Haerewa encouraged each other's actions. They kicked, stomped and slapped him. They rubbed his own faeces in his face.
For four days Moko's last struggle dragged on until the couple eventually rang 111, saying the boy fell off a wood pile.
Shailer caused the fatal injuries when she stomped on Moko's abdomen and stomach.
During an emotional 3 hour hearing in the High Court at Rotorua, Ms Dally-Paki spoke tearfully about the anger and pain she felt about losing her son so young, referring to his killers as "evil".
"On his fourth birthday I visited his grave, something I never planned to do. This year he would have turned 5 and I would have got him ready for school, but instead I had to bury him ... I have a horrible pain in my heart ... My boy - my children - are the centre of my universe and my world has changed forever."
Retired District Court Judge Roy Wade said the sentence was about what he expected although it was notable for being higher than the starting point requested by the Crown.
Judge Wade had added his voice to criticism about the downgraded charges, saying an explanation for such moves should be made in open court. Unlike here, the UK required that and a judge to approve any such deals, he said.
"The overall impression I'm getting is this is just a cost-cutting exercise."
Judge Wade wanted a greater sense of balance between funding of prosecution and defence providers and raised the possibility of a public prosecution service, similar to the Public Defence Service, rather than having private firms bid for the Crown warrant.
Meanwhile, Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson yesterday explained why the murder charge was dropped. He said there was a significant risk Moko's torturers wouldn't be convicted if they headed to trial on a murder charge.
To prove murder, it would need to be proven beyond reasonable doubt that Moko's injuries were inflicted with murderous intent.
Shailer and Haerewa had a responsibility to get medical treatment for Moko, Mr Finlayson said. By failing to do so, they contributed to his death, in addition to causing his injuries.
"But the failure to discharge this duty could not in itself lead to a murder conviction for both defendants nor would a conviction for manslaughter based solely on this failure have adequately reflected the defendants' role in inflicting the injuries which killed Moko."
Cost was not a factor, Mr Finlayson said.
The New Zealand Bar Association and Law Society both publicly expressed faith in the "robust" processes around downgrading charges.
"Suggestions, reported in the media, that the process is flawed or that financial implications are relevant to the decision are misconceived and wrong," said bar association president Clive Elliott, QC.
The sentence can be compared with the punishment delivered in previous child death cases.
Nia Glassie's mother, Lisa Kuka, was jailed for nine years for manslaughter. Her then partner Wiremu Curtis and his brother Michael were jailed for life for Nia's 2007 murder.
Delcelia Witika's mother, Tania Witika, and stepfather, Eddie Smith, were both jailed for 16 years over the 2-year-old's 1991 death.