Sydney - A man with a long history of preying on children was on Thursday found guilty of murder and interfering with a corpse in one of Australia's biggest missing person cases.
Father-of-three Brett Peter Cowan, 44, pleaded not guilty to the charges relating to the killing of Daniel Morcombe, 13, who was last seen waiting for a bus in northern Queensland in 2003.
His disappearance sparked a massive nationwide hunt, followed by years of false leads and dead ends avidly followed by public and press alike.
Cowan faces a life sentence for the murder with a minimum of 15 years without parole. He is expected to be sentenced next week.
The case came to trial after an inquest in 2011 prompted a breakthrough which saw Cowan charged with Morcombe's abduction and murder after being caught in an undercover sting confessing to the killing.
Police began searching the Beerburrum State Forest for the teenager's remains. They found his bones there in 2013.
His mother, Denise, said in a statement read out in court that she still had nightmares and was haunted by images of her son lying in “dark eerie bushland being destroyed by wild animals”.
“This day hasn't brought closure, but the streets are safer without you walking them and looking for your next target to destroy,” she said.
The boy's father, Bruce, added: “I often wonder about the other victims you have left in your wake. Sitting in the same room as you revolts me.”
The jury accepted the prosecution's case that Cowan abducted Morcombe, drove him to the secluded forest and choked him to death before disposing of his remains.
Documents painted a disturbing picture of a serial sex offender who had been abusing children since he was a child of nine or 10 years old himself.
He was first convicted in 1987, when he was 18, for molesting a seven-year-old boy in a public toilet.
The court heard he was a “pathological liar” and drug user with a long criminal record for everything from stealing to gross indecency.
In one case in 1993, Cowan subjected a lost six-year-old boy to an horrific ordeal, which left him wandering around naked, bloodied, dazed and distressed, court documents showed.
He was sentenced to seven years in jail in that instance after the victim ended up in intensive care, where he was treated for a collapsed and punctured lung, black eyes, large cuts and injuries to his neck that suggested “an asphyxial element”.
Cowan married when released on parole in 1998 but continued his offending, culminating in the abduction of Morcombe.