'You knew having sex with underage girls was wrong'
HEAVY sobs filled a courtroom as a Mackay region man was jailed over a string of sexual encounters with three underage girls.
The 20-year-old's supporters, who packed into several rows in the District Court in Mackay, were evidently floored by the decision.
It came after Judge Deborah Richards described the man's encounters with two 13-year-old girls and a 14-year-old girl in 2016 (when he was aged 18) as consensual.
The man has not been named to protect the identity of the girl's involved.
He faced the court on Wednesday, pleading guilty to four counts of carnal knowledge of a child (and attempt), three counts of indecent treatment, and one count of possessing child exploitation material. The man also pleaded guilty to breaching bail and two counts of driving without a license.
Judge Richards summed up the case and said the offences against the girls occurred together over a "short period of time" - within four to six weeks.
"The offences were against three different children. Against (a girl) who you had been in a relationship with, who was 14 at the time. (A second girl), who was 13 at the time. And (a third girl), who was 13 at the time," she said.
Judge Richards said the man had "broken up" with the 14-year-old girl when he digitally penetrated her and "attempted carnal knowledge with her consent" on April 3, 2016.
The next morning, the man took the second girl, 13, to a dam and "had unlawful carnal knowledge with her".
On the "first weekend of the school term in 2016", the man took the third girl, 13, to "that dam", where she was digitally penetrated and had oral sex performed on her.
Judge Richards said sometime in April-May, the man twice had "sexual intercourse" with the second girl.
"She had at that stage gone missing. She was staying at your place," she said.
"When the police found her she was only in her underwear in your bedroom.
"The police said she was a juvenile and you could be in trouble if anything happened.
"At that stage you indicated that you knew that and you'd been through it before with another girl.
"It's clear that you knew having sex with underage girls was wrong ... but you persisted in doing that despite that knowledge."
When the man was charged, he breached bail by contacting one of the girls, while the driving offences revolved around the unlicensed man driving to "the dam" on two occasions.
In the man's favour, Judge Richards said he had been young, has good work history and had been described in a psychologist report as "fairly immature".
Judge Richards also considered a "lack of previous convictions".
However, she said it was significant that "three young girls" were involved.
"And whilst I accept that they were consenting to the act, this law is designed to protect children," Judge Richards said.
"Not only from predators, but from themselves.
"Consent is relevant to the length of a sentence."
The man was sentenced to a range of concurrent prison terms.
But he will ultimately serve three-and-a-half months of a 12 month term before he's eligible for parole.
The man's supporters gathered together out front of the courthouse, hugging each other as the tears continued to flow.