A man who sexually molested and then strangled 11-year-old Zoe Buttigieg in her bedroom in Victoria’s north-east has been sentenced to life imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 28 years.
Bowe Evan Levi Maddigan, 31, pleaded guilty to committing an indecent act against, and murdering Zoe in her Wangaratta home in October last year.
He attacked the primary school student after a night spent drinking and smoking cannabis at her home with the girl’s mother, Janelle Saunders, as well as her partner and a friend.
Justice Lex Lasry described the murder as “incomprehensible and in its own way, gratuitous”.
“It is almost trite to say that your offending was extremely serious – words in themselves are inadequate in a case like this,” he said.
“You sexually touched and then murdered a girl of 11 years as she slept in her own bed and her own home.
“She was entitled to feel safe where she was, but it was there that you violently ended her life.”
Maddigan initially denied murdering Zoe but the court heard he later told police “it was like a bad movie, I couldn’t stop the button, I couldn’t pause the button, I couldn’t rewind the button”.
At the time of the murder, the Wangaratta man was living with a man he met at Beechworth prison who was friends with the child’s mother.
Maddigan had been released from prison, where he was serving a sentence for breaching parole, just three weeks earlier.
He also had previous convictions for violent offences.
YouTube searches for ballerinas and contortionists
Police and Ambulance Victoria workers found Maddigan the early hours of the morning, after he had walked 10km in bare feet towards Melbourne.
He had blood splatter marks on one foot.
Prosecutor John Champion told the court in November that child exploitation videos had been found on Maddigan’s phone following his arrest.
“Mr Maddigan also admitted using … YouTube to search for ballerinas and contortionists between the ages of 10 and 12 years old and expressed regret for not seeking help earlier,” he told the court.
Zoe’s uncle, Matt Carmody, read a statement from Zoe’s mother outside the court saying that the judgement did not bring closure to something that would “never be forgiven or forgotten”.
“Not a day goes by where Zoe is not missed. I love her so much, and there are so many things my little girl will never get to do,” Ms Saunders’ statement read.
“She’ll always be the 11-year-old girl who never got to see her full potential.
“Every day is filled with emptiness and the constant realisation that I’ll never get to see her again.”
Mr Carmody said the family was happy with the sentence, but nothing changed for them as they faced another Christmas without Zoe.
In court Mr Carmody wore purple, Zoe’s favourite colour, and stood to face Maddigan.
“He’s been in all of our nightmares for the last 18 months and to face your fears and to tackle them head on is something that everybody needed to do,” he said.
Maddigan went from bedroom to bedroom
The court previously heard Maddigan went from bedroom to bedroom during the night at Ms Saunders’ home.
He turned the light on in Zoe’s bedroom before gesturing to her to come down from her bunk bed.
Maddigan pulled off her pants before sexually assaulting and strangling her, later telling police that she “looked like an angel” and he wanted her to all himself.
The girl’s body was found covered in a doona on top of her bunk bed the following morning, and Maddigan’s gold ring was found in her mouth.
Justice Lasry said while Maddigan had showed remorse, sorrow and profound guilt in a letter to the court, he had not taken full responsibility for the crime.
“Despite your apparent repentance you have omitted to provide an explanation to the family of Zoe Buttigeig for your conduct in killing this child.”
“That lack of explanation includes the mystery of the gold ring found in her mouth, you are the only person who could explain either or both of those things — I simply to do not believe it’s because you don’t remember.”
Justice Lasry said Maddigan had “travelled this route of offending, apology and remorse before”.
“It becomes very difficult indeed to know how you will change over the long period of time you will spend in custody,” he said.
Justice Lasry said Maddigan was the victim of physical abuse as a child and he developed a dependency on alcohol and cannabis after starting to use them at age 11.
His childhood was “characterised by involvement with child protective services” made necessary by the way he was treated by his mother.