A father convicted of beating his baby to death after what he said was a methamphetamine binge during Auckland's first Covid-19 lockdown can now be named again, after the Court of Appeal rejected his bid for permanent name suppression.
Jerome Dean had argued that the suppression wouldn't be for his own benefit, and that he was instead trying to protect his other young daughter who he didn't kill. Justices were dubious of the claim.
The three-judge Court of Appeal panel ruled against Dean last Friday, but the ruling itself was suppressed for one week so that he and the mother of his children could prepare for its release.
Dean's name was first made public in March, when he was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter instead of murder for the April 2020 death of his 3-month-old daughter, Thalia.
The crying baby was beaten savagely within minutes of Dean taking her into his care at the Papatoetoe home. He was described as having used a "seven to eight out of 10" force as he delivered five or six blows to her head and "may have been fortunate in the downgrading of the charge from murder", Justice Stephen Kós noted in the appellate ruling.
In May, when he was sentenced to six years and six months in prison for the crime, he requested permanent name suppression — his lawyer arguing that publication of his name again would create undue hardship for his partner and his surviving daughter, who is 3. Justice Kit Toogood denied the request but allowed interim name suppression to begin so that Dean could appeal the decision.
While the case would certainly be upsetting to the entire family, that would be inevitable regardless of name suppression, Justice Toogood surmised. The judge also noted that, with Dean's name having previously been legally reported in the media after his initial name suppression lapsed, re-suppressing his name wouldn't achieve his claimed purpose anyway.
"It is not going to be an easy childhood for her given what has happened," Thalia's mother said of her surviving daughter in an affidavit in support of Dean's request. "My central concern is to protect her from this situation being made so much worse, ... by the details of what was canvassed at sentencing being reported on publicly."
But the legal system also has to consider the protection of the public, particularly looking at Dean's eventual release from prison, Justice Kós wrote in response.
The law "is plainly not that in every case of domestic violence causing death, permanent name suppression must be given to the defendant to protect other family members", he wrote for the appellate panel.
"...There is a very strong public interest in naming violent offenders," he wrote. "It is primarily a public safety consideration, so that those dealing with them in future years — for example, a new partner — have access to information as to the true character of the now-released defendant."
During Dean's sentencing in May at the Auckland High Court, Crown prosecutor Jasper Rhodes pointed out that he had been on bail for assaulting his partner at the time of fatally beating his baby.
"We're talking about multiple intentional blows to the head....how he would punch an adult in a boxing match," Rhodes said.
The child was initially considered a potential coronavirus case due to the timing of the attack paired with Dean's lie to paramedics, telling them she had been suffering flu-like symptoms.
During subsequent interviews with police, Dean admitted to hitting the baby, saying he felt like his head was going to explode because of the crying.
"I knew those hits was going to cause, you know, some damage," he told police, according to court documents. "But it's just 'cause I'm angry, I'm frustrated, I'm not thinking right and then I'm just, you know, I wasn't thinking at all. I did it but I wasn't thinking."
In a victim impact statement read aloud in court by a detective in May, the child's mother said she has quit drinking and found employment since the incident, and she hopes Thalia is looking down on her from heaven and is proud of her.
"I am filled with regret from the day my baby left the world," she said in her statement. "I could never have thought [he] could do something to hurt our kids. I can't forgive myself.
"I knew inside my heart he was not telling me the truth."