Woman jailed for murdering Tauranga boy Malachi

Malachi Subecz, 5, was found with injuries at a Te Puna property on November 1, and died in Starship Hospital on November 12. Supplied Photo.

The woman entrusted with the care of five-year-old Malachi Subecz has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his murder, with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.

It was offending Justice Paul Davison said was “bereft of any humanity whatsoever ... nothing less than torture”.

Michaela Barriball, 27, was sentenced at the High Court in Rotorua on Thursday after pleading guilty to one charge of murder, plus charges of ill-treatment of a child, injuring with intent to injure and failing to seek medical attention.

Her sister Sharron​ Barriball, 37, was also sentenced to six months home detention after earlier pleading guilty to one related charge of perverting the course of justice.

Before sentencing the court heard nine victim impact statements, including from Malachi’s uncle Peter Menzies.

“Malachi died in my arms 42 hours after life support was turned off. From that moment confidence and happiness died too, I just hate you for taking his life.”

He said once Michaela pleaded guilty, and he became aware of the full details of his nephew's ordeal, he collapsed

“The hatred and terror has never left me,” he said.

“My mind constantly returns to what you did to him ... I do not regard you as a human being. Those who knew and did nothing are almost as bad and should be similarly punished.”

Another uncle, Shane Cotter, placed a photograph of Malachi in front of him before addressing Michaela directly.

He said he was in state care himself, “unseen and unheard and a victim of unspeakable abuse”.

He also spoke of the family regret that “unlike me, rescued from my nightmare, he paid the ultimate price”.

“Despite the efforts of his family Malachi was allowed to stay in the care of monsters.”

Justice Davison also detailed Michaela’s numerous claims that various injuries were the result of clumsiness, or accidents.

“Lies upon lies upon lies.”

Malachi Subecz died in Starship Hospital on November 12, 2021. Photo: Supplied.

Assaults ‘on a daily basis’

Details of Malachi’s murder while under Oranga Tamariki care, and the appalling catalogue of suffering he endured before his death, caused outrage and prompted Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis to launch a review of all Government departments which could have intervened before his murder.

It was also later revealed that his abuse was known about by a daycare, and photographed, before his death, and a further Stuff investigation found the daycare was under no legal obligation to inform anyone of their concerns.

Over 18 pages, the police summary of facts presents a harrowing account of Malachi’s treatment up to his eventual murder in November last year, noting assaults “on a daily basis”.

It started in June when he was placed in the care of Michaela.

Michaela Barriball at the High Court in Rotorua where she was sentenced for the murder of five-year-old Malachi Subecz. Christel Yardley/Stuff.

“This was both at the defendant Michaela Barriball’s and biological mother’s request,” the summary said.

His care was formalised at the Tauranga Family Court in September with Michaela named as his temporary Additional Guardian. The summary notes she was also “resisting applications being made by the deceased’s biological family for them to obtain custody of him”.

Home for Malachi became a relocatable cabin at Michaela’s family address in Tauranga, where she also sometimes lived in what was described as a “volatile” relationship with her partner, an overstayer in New Zealand.

Both Michaela and Malachi used the main house, which was also home to her father, for showers and eating meals.

Michaela was unemployed at the time, and receiving Ministry of Social Development cash to take care of Malachi.

The summary said she would assault him daily, including slaps to the head, face, body and by pushing him by his chest into walls and the ground.

He also began to soil himself, prompting Michaela to “punish” him by stripping him to his underwear and locking him outside.

Other punishments included making Malachi stand for extended periods, and depriving him of food.

“On the day of his death on 12 November 2021 the deceased was visibly skinny and underweight,” the summary said.

“He weighed 16kg, the same weight recorded at a medical appointment in November 2019 when he was three years old.”

 Malachi’s uncle Peter Menzies and auntie Helen Menzies. In his victim impact statement Peter said he collapsed when he discovered the full horror of his nephew’s ordeal. Photo: Jericho Rock-Archer.

The summary also includes details of Malachi being slammed against walls, repeatedly struck on the face and held underwater in a bath.

“The deceased, when allowed up for air, asked her to stop, but she forced his face under the water again,” the summary said.

Later, “she was heard yelling while the deceased was screaming”.

He was burnt under a shower with water that was measured at 73 degrees, and left “screaming on a sheet in the lounge room of the house”.

One burn was described as being caused “by an object being pressed into the skin”, and others were found on his forehead.

The summary also detailed text messages Michaela sent to her partner in the wake of the burning, telling him “he’s in so much pain and can’t take him to hospital”.

She also texted “His mum asking for a video call but when she ring then I’ll say [to] her no data” and later, “I’m gonna kill that c*** if I ever see his ugly duckling face again”.

She sent a message to her father Chris Barriball to say she would not take Malachi to hospital “’cause of the bruises on his face from bumping into shit would make it look bad for me”.

Chris earlier told Stuff he loved his daughter, and that since the murder people had been “looking at me like I am dangerous or something.”

The summary also noted Malachi “was in obvious pain” when Michaela took him to a family function in October.

Several family members noticed the scabbed-over burn on his head and “became concerned that he was being abused”.

“The defendant Michaela Barriball assured them that he had burnt himself in the shower and had already been seen by a doctor,” the summary said.

“At no stage did the defendant Michaela Barriball take the deceased for any medical assistance.”

Voice calls with his biological mother around this time assured her “everything was going well”.

On November 1, 2021, the day scheduled for a final Family Court hearing, Michaela inflicted “multiple blunt force head injuries” on Malachi, before carrying him to the main house, unconscious and suffering from seizures.

She later told ambulance staff he had “fallen over while getting changed for school and had a fit”.

Malachi was taken to Tauranga Hospital, before being airlifted to Starship Hospital in Auckland.

He was placed into an induced coma before dying on November 12.

He was found to have acute malnutrition, a brain bleed, burns, a black eye, bruising on his chin, jaw, elbows, hip, left thigh and abrasions “indicative of grabbing and fingernail cuts”.

The cause of death was ruled as blunt force head injury.

Michaela later told police she “had a great bond with the deceased”, and claimed his injuries were the result of falls and trips.

Michaela Barriball's sister Sharron Barriball, who was sentenced after pleading guilty to one charge of perverting the course of justice. Photo: Christel Yardley/Stuff.

She also texted her partner before police arrived at Tauranga Hospital.

“So bub if I go to prison I’m very sorry for that OK,” she said.

“But you move on OK don’t wait for me to come out.”

She also called her partner, father and sister to tell them Malachi had died, adding “Looking at about 10 years.”

The summary of facts included numerous text messages, most sent to her partner, including one in which she said she “hated his guts”.

Another said “everyone always sorry for him [Malachi] but not for me”.


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