Darcey-Helen and Chloe-Ann stood no chance against the oven-like temperatures they were left to die in.
Strapped into their car seats, the heat climbing above 30 degrees – on the hot spring day, with no nearby shade to offer any relief, their final moments would likely have been agonising.
Their mum, 30-year-old Kerri-Ann Conley, didn’t even bother to check on them.
She had driven home at 4am on November 23, 2019, parking outside her Waterford West home and leaving the girls in their car seats.
After dawdling on her phone until 5.55am, she went to sleep.
Instead of checking on them after 6am, bringing them into the house for breakfast, she remained asleep until 1pm.
By the time she did retrieve them from the car that afternoon, both girls were dead.
The horrific injuries were revealed at Conley’s sentencing at Brisbane Supreme Court this week after she pleaded to the manslaughter of the two girls.
She was sentenced to concurrent jail terms of 9 years for both counts.
With time already served, she will be eligible for parole by November next year.
Paramedics who attended saw the girls’ broken skin was covered in blisters and burns, was hot to touch and they had suffered dehydration.
Their skin was “peeling off” when they tried to revive them.
Autopsies confirmed both girls died of hyperthermia after temperatures in the car climbed above 60 degrees that scorching day.
But in a grim detail, their precise time of death could never be established.
“One can only hope these little girls slowly succumbed to the growing heat of the day much earlier that morning and faded into a deep sleep from which they never returned,” Supreme Court Justice Peter Applegarth said during his sentencing of Conley on Thursday.
“The alternative of them being awake, distressed and trapped in their seats is too much to bear thinking about it for too long.”
The court was told after taking their lifeless bodies inside, she didn’t even call triple-0.
Instead, she tried to revive them before walking outside carrying a small plastic bag and disposing of it in the rubbish.
That bag contained empty clip seal bags with a white powdery residue – which police suspected were the residue of illegal drugs.
Conley then phoned Peter Jackson, Darcey-Helen’s father and her estranged partner, describing how the children were not waking up.
“You were highly distressed. He told you to call the ambulance and that he was on his way,” Mr Applegarth said.
It was only then she phoned triple-0 in a “highly distressed state”.
Mr Applegarth said Conley initially gave a false story to police about what happened the night before and in the morning.
Conley, a heavy drug user, was slammed for her “negligence” in leaving the children to die.
Mr Applegarth especially took aim at her drug use, including how she initially said she took drugs “recreationally” before investigations revealed the depth of her addiction.
Conley had disclosed to a covert police officer that she in fact used the drug ice daily.
She insisted her drug use “never affected” her relationship with the girls.
“It’s an astounding statement only a drug addict could make,” Mr Applegarth said.
“Meth always wins that race.
“If a parent smokes methylamphetamine, even in a tiny quantity, their children can never come first.
“Their children, at best, come a very distant second. The money spent for the methylamphetamine deprives the parent of money to care for their children.”
The gravity of Conley’s act was made worse it not being a “one-off”.
On previous occasions, she had left Darcey-Helen and Chloe-Ann in the car while she slept inside, having come home in the early hours of the morning.
Friends and associates who spent the night at her house would either keep an eye on the children or wake her up to make her remove them.
“The excuse for this abysmal course of behaviour was that the children were already asleep and you did not want to wake them because, once they were awake, they were difficult to settle,” Mr Applegarth said.
“However, that begs the question as to why you would be coming home with two infants in the early hours of the morning.”
In balancing Conley’s sentence, Mr Applegarth took into account her difficult upbringing and the ongoing burden of guilt she would carry for the rest of her life.
He also had regard to her “difficult” circumstances at the time of the incident, and that she had no intent to kill or harm her daughters.
“Your life was chaotic, partly through lack of support and mostly because of your drug use,” Mr Applegarth said.
Since going into custody Conley had remained in a “very poor” mental state – marked by ongoing grief and major depressive disorder, the court was told.
She told her treating doctor: “Everyday I eat myself alive because of what I’ve done.”
Concurrent sentences of 9 years’ jail were handed down for both manslaughter counts, while Conley was convicted but not further punished for possessing marijuana and drug utensils found at her house.
Mr Applegarth said she would be eligible for parole after serving five years behind bars.
With time already served, her eligibility date was fixed at November 22, 2024.
Mr Jackson, who was seated in the back of the courtroom with other family, left the room when the sentence was handed down.
Mr Applegarth addressed people in the public gallery who might have believed the penalty was too harsh or lenient.
“To Mr Jackson and other victims, I doubt if sentences that were double what I have imposed would have done much to ease your grief,” he said.
“And no sentence will bring back those beautiful girls.
“A judge has to sentence according to law, not according to what number will make one popular with a victim, a defendant or anyone else, or with a group of individuals or the general public.”
Outside court, Mr Jackson said he wasn’t happy with the sentence that was handed down.
“I can’t argue with the judge, it’s his decision I have to accept that,” he told reporters.
He said both girls were his world and he missed their laughter and giggles everyday.
“You know just everything, they’re toddlers, kids, what’s not to love about them,” he said.
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