Four members of a Winnipeg family have admitted to confining and torturing a mentally disabled woman for several months while she was living in their home.
Details of the abuse emerged publicly for the first time Monday at an emotionally charged sentencing hearing.
The 23-year-old victim, who has the mental capacity of a 12-year-old, suffered extensive physical and psychological trauma. She was rescued by Winnipeg police in the summer of 2006. The woman was missing large clumps of hair, had two black eyes, burns, cuts and bruises throughout her face and body, pale grey skin and had lost nearly 100 pounds, court was told.
"Initially she had very little memory of what happened to her. As she was in hospital, gradually the memory began to come back," said Crown attorney Shelly McFadyen. "The doctors who treated her described her as a severely traumatized young woman."
Dale Hendrickson and his sister, April Armstrong, have both pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. They committed the bulk of the abuse between February and June 2006, court was told. The Crown is seeking a six-year prison sentence for Hendrickson, 24, five years for Armstrong, 33.
Their 62-year-old mother, Thelma Hendrickson, along with Dale Hendrickson’s fiancée, Amanda O’Malley, 21, both pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm. The Crown is seeking up to two years of jail for them.
"These individual acts were part of a larger campaign, a larger pattern of abuse and tortuous behaviour," said McFadyen. "Each one knew the other was doing horrible acts to (the victim)."
Provincial court Judge Kelly Moar will hand down his sentences on July 13.
The victim’s mother, now deceased, had been long-time friends with Thelma Hendrickson, who invited the victim to come and live at their Pembina Highway apartment in early 2006 after the victim said she was being abused while living at a relative's house. Hendrickson considered the victim to be "like a daughter", court was told.
Hendrickson’s two adult children apparently resented the move and quickly began a pattern of abuse which grew to include the entire family. The victim was repeatedly burned with cigarettes, had Kleenex placed on her body and lit on fire and was even "branded" with a burning hot BBQ fork by Dale Hendrickson.
"He described that when he heard a sizzling sound on her skin he would take it off," McFadyen told court Monday. "He said she would grit her teeth together and let out a shriek. He guessed that she eventually became used to the pain being inflicted on her."
Police later asked Hendrickson why he started burning the victim.
"He said that everything else was being done on her so he thought he’d try it on her, too," said McFadyen. "He said that whenever he was done a cigarette he would just put it out on her."
The victim was also thrown down a large flight of stairs on several occasions, causing serious knee injuries which continue to this day. She was also being frequently punched and kicked by all the accused.
"I was scared, frightened. I didn’t know what was going to happen," the victim wrote in a statement read aloud by the Crown in court Monday. "My heart was beating really fast. I was afraid of saying something."
Armstrong told police she was angry with the victim because she believed the woman may have molested her young son. However, no complaint was ever filed to police and no charges were laid. Dale Hendrickson and his fiancée, O’Malley, said they were upset after the victim told O’Malley’s parents that O’Malley was pregnant. The woman’s parents eventually forced her to have an abortion and Hendrickson and O’Malley said they blamed the victim, court was told.
Police were eventually called by the victim’s family to check on her when she hadn’t been seen by several months. McFadyen said that likely saved the woman from further harm.
"She was depending on their good graces for her safety and well being," she said.