Mon, July 9, 2007
Girl found guilty in fatal stabbings of her Medicine Hat family
MEDICINE HAT — After deliberating for a little more than four hours, a Court of Queen’s Bench jury returned Monday with a decisive verdict for a 13-year-old girl accused in the grisly killings of her parents and little brother: guilty of first-degree murder on all three counts. The accused began weeping silently and then put her hand over her mouth as the foreman of the seven-man, five-woman jury read out the verdicts.
Her lawyer, Tim Foster, stared at the ground and appeared to be struggling even to look at his client, but then later moved to the prisoner’s box to put a comforting arm around her.
Minutes later, the jurors filed out of the courtroom one by one, a few stealing glances at the girl as they passed by her but most just looking away.
Justice Scott Brooker had given the jury few choices when he instructed them Monday morning.
They had to find her either guilty of first- or second-degree murder, or innocent altogether. The lesser charge of manslaughter was not an option.
The girl, who can’t be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, is believed to be the youngest person ever convicted of a multiple murder in Canada. As an offender under 14, she faces a maximum sentence of 10 years, with no more than six spent in custody.
In his charge to the jury, Brooker noted that both the Crown and defence agreed that it was the girl’s 23-year-old boyfriend, Jeremy Steinke, who physically stabbed and slashed the three family members to death. He has yet to enter a plea, and his trial on the same charges is not expected to start until next year.
But Crown prosecutor Stephanie Cleary argued that the young girl intentionally encouraged and persuaded Steinke to kill her family because they strongly disapproved of her much-older boyfriend.
Cleary also contended that she helped her boyfriend break into the family home in Medicine Hat in April 2006 by telling him which window was unlocked.
In Canadian law, an accused can also be found guilty of a crime if they intentionally aided, abetted and counselled another person to commit it.
“Under our law a person may be involved in an illegal act by different ways,” Brooker told the jury. Brooker also instructed the jury that they need not find proof of aiding, abetting and counselling — any one of those acts would warrant a guilty verdict.
“You don’t need to agree on the same basis, but you must all agree the accused is guilty on one basis or another,” Brooker said in his charge.
In order to find the girl, who was 12 at the time of the killings, guilty of first-degree murder, the jury had to be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the attack was planned and deliberate, said the judge.
Some of the relevant evidence that the jury heard over the past four weeks included various “hypothetical conversations” and e-mail chats that the accused had with Steinke musing about how to kill her parents and eight-year-old brother.
There was also a stick-person cartoon found in the Grade 7 student’s school locker that depicted a family of four where the middle-sized figure covers the two larger figures and a small figure with gasoline and smiles as they burn alive. The fourth figure then runs to a vehicle labelled “Jeremy’s truck.”
And there are also prison love letters that the two exchanged after being arrested where the accused says: “If only we ran.”
Brooker also took pains to remind the jury of the defence’s theory that even though the accused often talked about killing her parents, she never meant it.
The defence maintained that Steinke acted alone — high on cocaine and inspired by violent movies — in an attempt to please his girlfriend.