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Te Rerenga Kayden Ashley Wetere.

A 23-year-old woman who murdered her son in a tragic bid to resurrect her failing relationship with the boy's father or punish him has been jailed for life with a minimum of 13 years.

Gemma Gaye Killeen was sentenced in the Supreme Court this morning over the drowning death of her 22-month-old son Te Rerenga Kayden Ashley Wetere at Hillarys Boat Harbour in November 2010.

Killeen had pleaded guilty to murder but has maintained that she did not mean to kill or harm her son, but had placed him near the water's edge to create the false belief that he had been abducted.

Today Justice Stephen Hall said her crime was at odds with the dearly held value of a parent keeping their child safe and free from harm and that it beggared belief that her own selfishness would over-ride the instinct of a loving mother to protect her child.

He noted that in the unusual case it was accepted that she had not intended the death to occur but he also noted that for almost three-quarters of an hour she had the opportunity to direct those frantically searching for her son to the location she had left him.

CCTV footage showed her walking up and down a footpath for two minutes after placing her child near the waterline.

"They were vital moments in which you had an opportunity to resile from what you had done and save your son," the judge said. "It was in those moments you had the chance to change the course of events."

Justice Hall said he could only conclude that Killeen had been so self absorbed that she could only think of gaining attention through the drama in which she continued to play the victim.

A married couple on their daily walk found the boy floating in the water, initially mistaking him for a doll.

Justice Hall commended the pair for their desperate bid to save him with CPR, but noted it was likely he had already drowned.

The court had been told that Killeen had been angry at the child's father, Eddie Wetere, after she received no response to text messages she had sent him on November 25, 2010.

The on-off couple had argued the night before after she returned to his family home at 2am after a night out.

The next morning, Mr Wetere had kissed his son goodbye as he left for work, not knowing it would be the last time he would see him alive.

The court heard that after failing to reach Mr Wetere she had carried her tiny son down to the rocky water line, moved her car to the other side of the harbour, and began a string of false claims that he was missing or taken from his pram.

The State argued she carried out a premeditated "drama" to punish the boy's father and gain his attention.

She had told police after being told she was captured on CCTV walking her son towards the waterline and then moving her car to the other side of the harbour that she had only wanted to pretend her son was missing and had not put him in the water.

She said she had wanted things between her and the toddler's father to be "how they used to be - perfect".

The charge of murder can include a situation where a person unlawfully kills another without any intent to kill but while doing something for an unlawful purpose that would likely endanger a life.

Her defence lawyer, Seamus Rafferty, claimed Killeen had carried out an irrational act sparked by emotional turmoil over her strained relationship and struggle with young motherhood.

Justice Hall today said Killeen, whose selfish crime could not be attributed to any mental illness, had acted impulsively.

But he also said she had been deliberate in her actions and continued her lies instead of taking the opportunity prevent the resulting tragedy.

The court has heard she updated her Facebook page within hours of her son's death with a tribute to him.

Justice Hall said there had been no indication to others that Killeen would carry out a crime of such a nature and that two families - including her own - were now robbed of a son, grandson and nephew.

Killeen's sentence was backdated to the day of the murder.

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