Murders, models and sex tapes: 2020’s biggest court cases
The cogs of justice had to keep spinning throughout the worst of the coronavirus restrictions and courts adapted in 2020, ramping up video and telephone appearances for lawyers and defendants and turning to judge alone trials when a jury was not possible.
Thousands of cases came before the court this year from the tragic to the peculiar and the scandalous. These were some of the biggest court cases this year:
HEIDI STRBAK RELEASED
The mother of slain Queensland boy Tyrell Cobb sensationally walked free from court in December after she successfully appealed her earlier nine-year jail term for manslaughter in the High Court.
Justice David Boddice ordered that Heidi Strbak's be sentenced to five years imprisonment with the sentence to be suspended after the 1148 days - just over three years - she had already spent in custody.
Strbak pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Tyrell, 4, who died from blunt force trauma injuries to his abdomen, only on the basis that she failed to seek medical treatment for her son.
Justice Boddice found the blunt force trauma that caused Tyrell's death could have been inflicted by either Strbak or her former de facto partner, Matthew Scown.
The Supreme Court judge said the Crown had failed to establish that it was Strbak who inflicted the traumatic injuries to Tyrell's abdomen that caused his death.
Her release bought an end to a drama-filled series of court proceedings of the tragic death of little Tyrell.
The coronavirus didn't only dominate the health and economic headlines - the virus found its way into the court system with dozens of people charged with breaching the state's COVID-19 health directions.
Among the most high profile cases were those of Olivia Winnie Muranga, 20, Haja Uma Timbo, 21, and Diana Lasu, 21, who are each charged with one count of fraud and one of producing false or misleading documents.
It's alleged the trio travelled to Melbourne in July where they hosted an Airbnb party in a Melbourne CBD apartment despite the virus-riddled city being in hard lockdown.
It's alleged It's understood Muranga and Lasu were infected with COVID-19 and moved freely around the Queensland community for eight days before they were detected by authorities and placed under police guard in hospital.
Their cases are yet to be finalised and they will face court again early next year.
NRL SEX TAPE SCANDAL
One of the NRL's biggest scandals of 2020 landed in court when it was revealed a woman had illegally released a sordid sex tape of star Broncos player Kotoni Staggs.
In October, 18-year-old McKenzie Lorraine Robinson pleaded guilty to releasing the intimate video that was shared on the internet in August, placing the star player's career under scrutiny before he was eventually cleared by the NRL Integrity Unit of any wrongdoing.
Robinson claimed in court that she had no idea that Staggs was a professional football player, despite his Instagram account which they used to communicate featuring dozens of images of him wearing his Broncos uniform and him telling her in a message he had "training" the morning after they met.
Robinson was fined $600 and no conviction was recorded.
THE long-awaited findings into Dreamworld's Thunder River Rapids ride tragedy were handed down in February with a coroner delivering a scathing assessment of the theme park and its operator.
Almost four years on from the tragedy, Queensland Coroner James McDougall labelled Dreamworld's actions a 'total failure' and the hazards on the Thunder River Rapids ride posed 'significant risk' to patrons.
Dreamworld's parent company Ardent Leisure was referred to the Office of Industrial Relations and in September the company was fined $3.6 million over the deaths of Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, her brother Luke Dorsett and his partner Roozi Araghi, who died after the raft they were travelling in flipped when the theme-park ride malfunctioned on October 25, 2016.
ANIMAL RIGHTS PROTESTERS FRONT COURT
Animal rights activists fronted Brisbane courts dozens of times in 2020 for a series of break ins at farming facilities throughout Queensland.
Among the most high profile cases was that of vegan Instagram model Lauren McGeachin who was sentenced to 90 hours of community service after she "rescued" piglets from a southeast Queensland piggery.
McGeachin pleaded guilty in August to two separate break-ins at an egg farm and a piggery in which chickens and piglets were stolen last year.
Defence lawyer Kate McArthur told the court McGeachin, 28, had no intention of stealing the piglets during the November break in at a Goondiwindi piggery and had just wanted to see the conditions inside the facility but she became distressed by the "disturbing" and "putrid" conditions she found the animals in, which led to her and several co-offenders stealing six piglets.
No conviction was recorded against the young model.
MASON LEE INQUEST WRAPS UP
In June, a coroner issued a scathing rebuke of the Child Safety officers involved in the case of slain toddler Mason Lee, saying they failed in "nearly every way possible", as she handed down her findings into one of the state's most tragic child abuse cases.
In June 2016, Mason's stepfather Andrew William O'Sullivan struck the neglected boy so hard that his organs ruptured and left him to die a slow and painful death over days, refusing to seek help.
The coroner noted that 21 employees of the child safety department had failed to carry out their duties appropriately in relation to the toddler.
"It is difficult to find any step taken in this case that was carried out in accordance with policies and procedures and correctly documented," Coroner Jane Bentley wrote in her findings.
MAYOR'S FALL FROM GRACE
Disgraced former Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale was slapped with extra jail time this year after he pleaded guilty to fraud, corruption and sexual assault offences that he committed while in the city's highest office.
The 69-year-old was on sentenced to a total of seven-and-a-half years' jail by Ipswich District Court Judge Dennis Lynch in September for 35 criminal charges arising out of a Crime and Corruption Commission investigation into the popular Queensland mayor.
In his sentencing, Judge Lynch said Pisasale had engaged in sustained corrupt activity during his time as mayor, including using charity funds to buy items for himself and in 2015, keeping money that was donated to install security screens on the home of an elderly victim of crime.
The court heard Pisasale also sexually assaulted a 23-year-old woman he met at a function at a local employment firm in December 2016. He will be eligible for parole in October 2022.
SICK RAPIST, TORTURER GETS LIFE IN JAIL
Former Bulimba banker Nicholas John Crilley was sentenced to life in prison in May for a sickening attack on a woman who he tortured for more than three weeks.
The court heard Crilley smiled in phone selfies after he inflicted unimaginable pain on a woman, systematically torturing her for 23 days until she was on the brink of death, with maggots infesting her face.
Judge Anthony Rafter sentenced the 34-year-old to life in prison for seven charges including rape and malicious act with intent.
Judge Rafter said he regarded Crilley's sexual arousal and pleasure after burning or beating his victim "deeply disturbing" cruel and depraved, and regarded his claims at remorse to be insincere.
He also found it "despicable" that Crilley recorded his "prolonged and sustained" and "sadistic" torture and depravity of the woman on his phone, which made it an especially "grave case" deserving the toughest penalty.
MURDERER GIVEN EXTRA JAIL TIME FOR CHILD SEX ABUSE
Tiahleigh Palmer's killer Rick Thorburn was slapped with extra jail time after being sentenced for 13 child sex offences.
Thorburn, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of his foster daughter, 12-year-old Tiahleigh, was sentenced in the Beenleigh District Court in November for sex crimes committed against children in 2015 and 2016 at his Chambers Flat home.
The court heard he had sexually abused two young sisters, aged 11 and four, while his wife was in another room or dropping children at school.
"You were in a position of trust. Instead, you abused them disgracefully," Judge Craig Chowdhury told Thorburn.
His parole eligibility date was extended by two years, to September 12, 2038.
THOMAS LANG MURDER RETRIAL
Five years after Brisbane model and socialite Maureen Boyce was found stabbed to death in her Kangaroo Point Penthouse, her lover Thomas Lang was sentenced to life in prison for her murder.
It was a long and emotional journey for her grieving family who had to sit through two trials after Lang successfully appealed his first murder conviction.
After a two week trial in the Brisbane Supreme Court which began in November, the jury unanimously found Lang guilty of murdering Ms Boyce in a jealous rage in October 2015.
Originally published as Murders, models and sex tapes: 2020's biggest court cases