Strangled mum’s desperate battle to stay alive

Donna Steele begged "I can't breathe" as she was strangled to death in a botched attempt to extort $20,000 from drug dealers in Cooktown, a court has heard.

In a bombshell recording with police played in court, her accused killer Matthew Ross White told how he dumped her body in a known crocodile hole because "you can't breathe underwater".

White, who today marks his 28th birthday on trial in the Cairns Supreme Court, had pleaded not guilty to murder and burglary with violence.

But after lunch on the second day of his Cairns Supreme Court trial, White changed his plea to guilty.

The body of Mrs Steele, a mother-of-two and a caravan park cleaner, was found wrapped in a doona submerged with rocks at Leggett's Crossing on the north branch of the Endeavour River on August 6, 2017.


Cooktown mum Donna Steele.
Cooktown mum Donna Steele.


Matthew Ross White is accused of murder.
Matthew Ross White is accused of murder.


In his taped interview played to the 12-person jury, White told how he hatched a plan to abduct Mrs Steele and use her to extort money from local drug associates.

"I wasn't planning on killing her," he said in the police recording after his arrest on March 3 2018.

"I didn't think she'd have lots of money.

"But she was the start. I thought her (ice) dealers would have a bit more money."

The jury heard how he'd only met Mrs Steele once before and believed she was an ice user and an easy target.

White, baby-faced with his curly hair in a topknot and dressed in a neat suit in the dock, allegedly targeted her to get money to get custody of his young son from the courts.

He staked out the isolated Cape York farmhouse and watched as she took her boys to the school on the day of the alleged murder, the court heard.

When she returned home a few hours later, he hid under her bed with a stocking on his head and some red twine he'd bought from Bunnings in Cairns, the Crown alleged.

"She screamed," White said in the taped interview.

She tore the stocking off his head and fought for her life as he punched and kneed her and wrapped the twine around her throat, the jury heard.

"The twine wasn't doing anything, she wasn't slowing down," he said.

"I was pulling from behind, she was on her knees.

"I wasn't expecting such a fight."

He took a nearby silk scarf and put it around her neck before doubling it.

"She said "I can't breathe".

"She was on her hands and knees, then flat on her belly, eventually she stopped moving.

"She was making a rattle noise out of her mouth".