Mother pleads guilty over son's death

Tuesday 4 July 2000

"He looked at you, he looked into you and he looked beyond you. He connected with people and he connected people."

That's how Fiona Strahan described James Sette, the little boy she and her partner Jack Gilding were on the verge of adopting in February last year. Instead, she went to his funeral and offered this remembrance.

Yesterday, more than a year after the baby abduction that captured national attention Maria Gulia Sette, 32, pleaded guilty to manslaughter over the stabbing death. She was James's birth mother.

The events of February last year unfolded dramatically.

Sette unleashed a search in two states when she took the boy from his prospective adoptive parents, Ms Strahan and Mr Gilding, during a pre-arranged picnic at Daylesford Lakes in Victoria.

The 15-month-old boy died on or about February 8, 1999, at the Murray River town of Moama in southern New South Wales, near the Victorian border.

James, who was known to his foster parents as James Jasper Strahan, had been living with them for 13 months. They had been due to adopt him formally in six weeks but maintained contact with Sette who was allowed regular access visits.

Ms Strahan said at the time the couple wanted the birth mother to have a strong bond with James, which was the reason the meeting in Daylesford had been arranged.

James's abduction had police scouring dams, swamps and forests from Daylesford to Deniliquin.

When Sette checked into a motel the day after the abduction, James was not with her.

The search ended when his body was found floating in a dam, five days after he disappeared.

Sette claimed she did not remember what happened after driving into a forest with James, but recalled putting his body into a dam where it was spotted by a farmer.

A police statement of facts tendered at a committal hearing in Sydney last year said Sette had told police she drove down a forest road near Moama looking for a picnic spot. "At this location, the defendant insists the victim called her `mummy' for the first time," the statement alleged.

"She was unable to recall exactly what happened after this."

An autopsy disclosed James died from five stab wounds.

NSW Supreme Court Justice Graham Barr adjourned the case until today when he will hear sentence submissions. Sette remains on bail.

Prosecutor Patrick Power has indicated to the court that he will be seeking a custodial sentence.

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