Terence Darrell Kelly is a child snatcher.
It is a label he gave himself when he appeared in Carnarvon Magistrates Court on Monday and pleaded guilty to forcibly taking, enticing away, or detaining a child.
The evidence was damning from the start, the most incriminating aspect, of course, being Cleo Smith’s presence in his Tonkin Crescent home when police tore through the front door.
But given the complexity of the case, the media attention and the mountains of material presented to the prosecution and defence counsels, I had expected to be waiting months for any major developments.
I also questioned whether the doll-obsessed loner, who had to be twice hospitalised with self-inflicted injuries, had the capacity to understand he had done something wrong.
His early plea is strategic — it shows he accepts responsibility for his crimes, and the judge will take this into account during sentencing.
Guilty pleas to the remaining charges — including assault on a public officer — will also work in Kelly’s favour as Cleo and her family would be spared the ordeal of fronting court.
But Kelly has yet to enter pleas to these and he will next appear in court in February.
Parents Ellie Smith and Jake Gliddon were not in court to witness the moment Kelly admitted to snatching their daughter, and it is understood they are now in Perth filming an interview as part of their multi-million dollar media deal.
Keyboard warriors have been quick to accuse the couple of profiting off Cleo’s ordeal, with some child welfare experts worried an interview with the little girl would “re-traumatise” her.
While the record-breaking deal may appear to some like a backflip on their plea for privacy, I think it gives the family a chance to share their story of strength and hope on their own terms.
The cash will take the financial pressure off the family as they continue to move on from their ordeal. I would probably be asking for a new puppy or a pony, too, if I was Cleo.
Ellie’s instincts have proven to be spot-on from the moment we met the family — she knows her kid and will do what is best for Cleo.
I expect everyone will be far less kind to Kelly when the details of Cleo’s captivity are revealed. Hopefully what his case highlights is that no matter what you do under the cover of darkness, the truth always comes out.
Phoebe Pin is a reporter for the Midwest Times and was the first reporter at the Blowholes covering the case when Cleo Smith went missing.