Mervyn Burton, 26, has been jailed for 16 years, prompting calls from victims and women’s groups to toughen bail laws and drawing comparisons to the Jill Meagher case .
Burton stood accused of assaulting four women and had a prior conviction for assaulting two more when he inflicted the sickening injuries upon the young boy.
The boy was admitted to hospital in February 2012 with 11 fractures, multiple areas of brain injury, a lacerated liver, 120 separate bruises including bruising to his back from at least 40 blunt impacts and a bite mark.
The child also had a laceration to the penis that Burton said was from a cat but the boy told nursing staff he was cut with scissors.
Burton pleaded guilty to six counts of aggravated causing harm with intent and one count of causing serious harm with intent against the boy.
Domestic violence expert Dr Sarah Wendt said the case highlighted the dangers of allowing such offenders to remain free on bail despite repeated offending.
“The Jill Meagher case and this one are examples of the system not following through,” Dr Wendt said.
“(These cases) give us an opportunity to look at where things have failed and what we can do better next time.”
Ms Meagher was murdered in Melbourne’s CBD in September 2012 by Adrian Ernest Bayley , who was free on parole despite a shocking history of sexual violence against women.
Dr Wendt said while some men adhered to restraining orders, many had no fear of breaching their conditions.
“Particularly men who perpetrate violence ignore the law. They don’t see it as a deterrent so how we respond as a society needs to be looked at,” she said. “If he continues to get away with it, he will continue to do it.”
Burton, who in 2006 was given a suspended five-month prison term for assaulting two former girlfriends, began his latest spate of offending in January, 2010.
District Court judge Gordon Barrett said Burton assaulted the woman he was dating and threatened to harm her and her family if she went to the police.
He dated the second woman between April and August 2010. He punched her and choked her. Burton was arrested for these offences and released on simple police bail.
While on bail for these offences, he committed the rest of the offences.
Burton was arrested again in 2011 for his assaults against a third woman and again released on simple police bail. During this brief relationship, Burton made the woman shut down her Facebook account and delete all her phone contacts except for work and family.
A fourth relationship involved an assault that lasted several hours as he choked, punched and dragged the woman around the house, holding a knife to her throat and threatening to kill her. He was arrested in June 2011 and released on simple police bail.
One month later, Burton went to the police and alleged two of his victims were threatening him. He later assaulted his father and brother and was again released on simple bail.
He went on to assault a fifth woman whom he persuaded to stop work so she did not come into contact with other males.
After the relationship ended, Burton was admitted to the magistrates court mental health diversion program.
While on bail and in the program he assaulted the four-year-old boy over several weeks.
Five days before the boy was admitted to hospital, the Senior Clinical Liaison Officer with the Magistrates Court Diversion Program reported Burton had demonstrated a willingness to participate meaningfully and that he should be commended for his participation.
Judge Barrett said Burton was also receiving psychiatric and psychological care while he was assaulting the boy.
“Whereas previously you had been violent to your partners, you now turned your violence on a defenceless four-year-old boy,” Judge Barrett said.
He said Burton’s counsel had instructions that Burton had “no clear recollection of the violence” he perpetrated.
“There are really no signs that I can see that suggest that the community is yet safe from your possible outbursts of violence,” Judge Barrett said.
He said were it not for Burton’s guilty pleas, he would have sentenced him to 20 years for the “unusually serious” offending.
“Your being able to conform to discipline in prison is not, in my view, a sign of your rehabilitation.
“You seriously and serially assaulted five women between January 2010 and August of 2011,” Judge Barrett said.
“During that time you also assaulted your father and brother. That violence continued despite your being arrested and released on bail numerous times.”
Judge Barrett said he would treat the offending as one course of conduct and set a non-parole term of 12 years.
He said Burton showed a complete lack of insight by telling a doctor his relationships with women ended because “they just want to use and abuse you”.
Women’s Domestic Violence Services of SA co-chair Vicki Lachlan said Burton’s other matters should have been taken into consideration when he was released on bail the second and third time.
“They’re not isolated matters, they’re patterns of behaviour,” Ms Lachlan said. She said Judge Barrett’s decision to set one sentence for all the offending was a win for the people Burton assaulted.
“I’m encouraged to hear that the judge this time eventually took into account his pattern of behaviour,” she said.
“But his history just highlights the fact that others didn’t … it’s just outrageous that he was able to do it again and again.
“I think we often in the courts value property more than people, especially if it’s a woman.”
Professor Rick Sarre from UniSA said he believed bail laws were “about right” although mistakes were sometimes made.
Prof. Sarre said the bail laws should not be changed for just one case.
Domestic Violence Helpline: 1800 800 098