Sydney – AAP
Two days ago, a little girl whose smile lit up the world should have been celebrating her fifth birthday.
Instead, Tanilla Warrick-Deaves’s grieving father and stepmother from Ballina were anxiously waiting in the Supreme Court in Sydney for justice to be delivered to her killer.
That finally came on Thursday when 30-year-old Warren Ross was found guilty of murdering the toddler after subjecting her to prolonged abuse akin to torture.
During the five-week trial, jury members were visibly upset as they heard harrowing evidence of how Ross viciously abused the child for weeks before her death while her mother, Donna Deaves, did nothing to stop it.
Ross pleaded not guilty to murdering the toddler, who died of massive head injuries at her Watanobbi home on the NSW central coast in August 2011.
Ross had only been going out with Deaves for a couple of months when he decided to toilet train the little girl, subjecting her to prolonged and horrific abuse in the process.
He forced her to run countless laps until she dropped, hit her and whipped her with various implements including an electric cord and his belt, and deliberately dropped a heavy tool box on her tiny hand.
Several witnesses described hearing Tanilla’s agonising screams as she was punished, while Deaves did little more than occasionally tell Ross to stop.
Graphic photographs of her injuries were tendered in court, but Ross told police she ‘must have hurt herself’ through a series of trips and falls.
Deaves was jailed for at least nine years for manslaughter on the grounds of criminal negligence.
Ross, who did not give evidence at the trial, maintained an air of defiance throughout.
When Deaves gave evidence against him, he swore constantly under his breath and made threats against her to a court officer.
As the jury, some in tears, delivered the guilty verdict after a day-and-a-half of deliberations, Ross snarled abuse at a man in the public gallery and then members of the media.
He eventually broke down in tears before telling his sobbing mother, ‘It’s not over’.
Deaves, the trial’s key witness, said she watched as Ross inflicted the fatal injuries on Tanilla – banging the toddler’s head on a glass shower screen, holding her upside down over the toilet bowl and causing her to slam her head against a cupboard door.
Tanilla was left unconscious in her pram for the next two days before Deaves discovered she wasn’t breathing and finally called triple-zero.
She initially lied to police about what happened to Tanilla, saying she did so because she was scared of Ross.
Speaking outside court after the verdict, Tanilla’s father Adrian Warrick and stepmother Brooke Bowen thanked the jury for making the right decision.
‘Justice has been done,’ Mr Warrick said.
Sitting through Ross’s trial had been extremely hard to bear, the couple said.
‘People talk about closure but there’s no such thing as closure,’ a tearful Ms Bowen said.
‘Today was a bit of an acceptance that she’s not coming back.’
Ross will be sentenced next year.