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  • Renee Cluff

    Email Renee Cluff

    Murderer of Cooktown mother to spend 20 years behind bars


    A 27 year-old man has been given a life sentence for killing mother of two Donna Steele in Cooktown in 2017.

    Matthew Ross White entered a guilty plea on the second day of his Supreme Court trial, after the jury was shown a video of a police interview in which he confessed to the crime.



    The body of the 42 year-old victim, a mother of two young boys, was found in a tributary of the Endeavour River in the days after she disappeared.

    In handing down the mandatory sentence, Justice Jim Henry described White as egotistic, naïve and shallow.

    “In taking a human life you have caused unspeakable grief…forever altering the lives of two innocent children now irrevocably deprived of the love and comfort of their mother,” he said.

    Ms Steele’s brother Jason Steele directly stared and pointed at the 27 year-old killer as he read out a victim impact statement.

    He said the baby sister he called ‘Daisy’ was dependable, caring, compassionate and generous.

    “On the day you took my sister your actions were cruel, callous and self-serving,” he said.

    “The trauma of your actions is widespread throughout our extended family.

    “We will never get over the way you took her from us.”

    The trial heard White had been trying to extort money from one of Ms Steele’s acquaintances to raise $20,000 to gain custody of his son.

    He’d broken into her house while she dropped her two boys at school and went shopping.

    When she arrived home he strangled her with pre-cut twine and a scarf, before wrapping her in a doona, driving to Leggett’s Crossing and throwing her into the water where she was weighed down with rocks.

    Forensic pathologist Dr Paul Botterill couldn’t determine the exact cause of death.

    He said he couldn’t rule out drowning but the court heard it was more likely Ms Steele had died before she was been placed in the water.

    How police caught the killer

    During the police investigation, DNA believed to belong to the murderer was found on a length of twine.

    200 members of Cooktown community came forward to give their own DNA, including White's mother and sister, whose samples showed they were relatives. 

    White’s heel prick sample, which was taken at birth, gave police the connection they needed to arrest him in early 2018. 

    Under Queensland’s sentencing legislation, the life term means he’ll serve at least 20 years behind bars.

    Taking into account time already served, he could be 45 when he’s released - just a few years older than his victim.