A 27-year-old woman has been jailed for her prolonged abuse and eventual murder of a five-year-old boy she had in her care. Warning: Distressing Content.
WARNING: Distressing Content
In the hours after brutally beating and burning an innocent five-year-old boy in her care, a resentful and enraged Michaela Barriball messaged her boyfriend.
“I don’t care if I go to jail, I deserve to,” she said in a rare moment of self-reflection.
Today, a judge agreed.
Barriball, who brutally abused and eventually murdered Malachi Rain Subecz, will spend at least 17 years in prison — one of the longest sentences handed down to a female offender in New Zealand history.
The five-year-old, who weighed just 16kg when he died at Starship Hospital in November last year, was beaten, starved, thrown against walls, and burnt with scorching hot water in the months before he was eventually killed by Barriball — the very woman entrusted with his care, the New Zealand Herald reports.
In the High Court at Rotorua on Thursday, Michaela, 27, appeared to face sentencing on two charges of ill-treatment of a child and one of murder. Her sister Sharron Barriball also appeared after pleading guilty to attempting to pervert the course of justice by hiding evidence.
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Michaela dressed in a grey crew neck and sat silent and emotionless in the dock throughout the hearing, next to Sharron who had donned a thick coat and headscarf.
Nine victim impact statements were read to the court, including from Helen Menzies, Malachi’s aunt. Menzies read both her and her 15-year-old daughter’s statements, describing the trauma her children suffered, hearing their cousin had been murdered.
Menzies herself stayed with an unconscious Malachi in hospital in the days before his life support was switched off.
“If I try to drift off to sleep at night, I hear his gasping breath,” she said. “You laid your dirty hands on my nephew. What gave you the right to do that?”
Her husband, Peter Menzies, held Malachi as he died. “From then, my confidence and happiness died too,” he said, fighting back tears.
“I constantly see Malachi wired up and gasping for breath. The images have never gone away, and probably never will.
“I hate this world and the horrible things people do. This has changed me forever.”
Both prosecutor Anna Pollett and defence lawyer Rachel Adams agreed that the sentence must be one of life imprisonment, with a minimum period of imprisonment of 17 years.
Pollett said a minimum of 18-19 years would be appropriate, while Adams remained firm on 17.
Justice Paul Davison said the offending “clearly sits at the highest end of any scale.”
“You held all the power, and you abused that power in the most callous and inhumane way imaginable”
Davison sentenced Barriball to life imprisonment, with a 17-year minimum period of imprisonment.
Child suffered repeated beatings
According to the summary of facts, Barriball, who was unemployed, lived in a rented cabin on a Te Puna section owned by her father.
Michaela Barriball is not a relation of Malachi’s — however, he was placed into her care in September last year after a request from Malachi’s mother.
Barriball first began looking after Malachi in June of last year. It didn’t take long before Barriball began assaulting the child “on a daily basis”, slapping him in the head, face, and body.
He would frequently soil himself, which Barriball would respond to by stripping him naked and locking him outside or in a car. She would force the child to stand for prolonged periods of time, only being allowed to sit when given permission, and he was also deprived of food.
One bout of abuse saw Barriball pick Malachi up by his hair and launch him against a wall twice, before repeatedly striking him in the face.
Frustrated, Barriball messaged her partner saying she was going to kill him. Those messages reveal a deep disdain for the child.
“You like him more then me yar [sic], that’s not fair he’s taking everyone from me the ugly f***er,” one message read.
“I’m gonna f**k him up badly. Ugly c**t taking my all everyone from my life g.”
One of the most graphic attacks saw Barriball hold him under the water while having a bath. The child pleaded with her to stop, but she forced him back under.
Another bathroom incident saw a soiled Malachi placed in a shower flowing with 73-degree hot water. He suffered severe burns, including a deep 13cm blackened injury on his abdomen.
Further messages show Barriball toying with the idea of taking Malachi to a doctor after the shower: “I wanna take him to hospital but I’m f****** scared asf man.”
Throughout October, Barriball would leave Malachi in the cabin alone, returning in the morning.
One of the child’s final memories is the only example even slightly reminiscent of a normal childhood: On October 31, the night before he suffered his last beating, he went trick or treating with his cousins, dressed as a pirate.
The next morning, Barriball woke up in the cabin alongside him. She was frantically calling property managers that morning in an attempt to find more suitable accommodation.
Being rejected by those she spoke to, she lashed out, inflicting blunt force injuries on the child in her cabin. Malachi suffered a seizure.
An ambulance was called, and Barriball told paramedics that he had fallen over while getting dressed for school.
Within hours, Malachi was transferred to Starship Hospital and put into an induced coma. He was suffering from a brain haemorrhage and substantial bruises across his entire body.
The injuries were unsurvivable. Malachi died on November 12.
Sentence among longest ever
While there is no official publicly accessible record for the harshest sentences in the country’s history, it is believed today’s sentencing is among the longest ever passed down to a female offender.
Since the introduction of the Sentencing Act in 2002, the longest custodial sentence handed to a female offender was life with 19 years non-parole. That sentence was afforded to Tracy Goodman for her murder of Marton grandmother Mona Morriss in 2005.
Other child abuse cases have seen similar sentences, but not as lengthy.
The horrific abuse and eventual killing of Rotorua toddler Nia Glassie shocked the nation in 2007. Wiremu and Michael Curtis were jointly sentenced to life with a minimum 17-years behind bars after being found guilty of manslaughter.
This article originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald and was reproduced with permission