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Parents found guilty of first-degree murder in Phoenix Sinclair case

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Samantha Kematch and Karl McKay were sentenced to life in prison today with no chance of parole for 25 years after being convicted of first-degree murder in the June 2005 death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair.

Both accused made brief comments to the court before being led away in handcuffs.

Kematch was defiant to the end, lashing out at McKay and protesting her innocence.

"I know the truth. I was there. Everyone can say what they wanna say, call me what they wanna call me. I never did this and I know this. I know who did it but that person won’t speak the truth," she said.

McKay was apologetic, saying he is "ashamed" at his role in Phoenix’s tragic killing.

"I’m truly sorry from my heart. This should not have happened. This girl was full of life and happy when she entered my life," he said.

"Phoenix, I know you can hear me. I’m sorry. Please forgive me."

Kim Edwards, Phoenix’s former foster mother, had the courtroom in tears while reading her victim impact statement. She described Phoenix’s eyes, which she called "big brown mesmerizing saucers" and said the little girl would have been in grade 2 today if not for the actions of her mother and stepfather.

"I can see her now, all inquisitive and curious and showing other kids how to rock out and have fun," said Edwards, who added she will never forgive McKay and Kematch for what they did.

All 10 women who sat on the jury returned to court for the sentencing hearing, which came nearly three hours after they delivered their unanimous guilty verdicts following three days of deliberations. They all appeared visibly upset as they sat in the  jury box listening to submissions.

McKay and Kematch had been seeking a manslaughter conviction.

Kematch learned her fate first, showing no emotion and staring blankly ahead as she pursed her lips.

McKay was seen to take a series of deep breaths and close his eyes. He then clasped his hands together and held them to his mouth while bowing his head after hearing his verdict. He quickly shot a look towards Kematch.

'Justice is never going to be done'

Many people close to Phoenix were in court as the verdict was read, including Edwards and Loretta Stevenson, mother of McKay's two teenaged sons who broke the case open in March 2006 when they came forward to police reporting countless horrors they’d witnessed on the little girl.

Their tip led investigators to discover Phoenix’s remains buried near the garbage dump at the Fisher River First Nation, about 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg,

Edwards and Stevenson hugged and cried outside court after the verdict.

"I’m sad for Phoenix, but happy they’re getting what they deserve," McKay’s sister, Hilda, told a gathering of reporters outside the downtown Law Courts building shortly after hearing the verdict.

"Justice is never going to be done for this little girl. Too much happened to her. It shouldn’t have happened to her, we all know that. It shouldn’t happen to any little child."

Tara Clelland-Hall, an RCMP officer who interviewed Kematch, was also in tears after the verdict. Top investigators in the case also attended court, including Cpl. Bobby Baker, the officer who arrested Kematch.

"You have represented the people of Canada in a most important civic duty," Simonsen told jurors today before dismissing them. She added they were free to return to court later this afternoon to watch McKay and Kematch be sentenced.

Admitted to being 'terrible' parents

McKay and Kematch admitted in their lawyers' closing arguments last week to being "terrible" parents who deserve to be punished for the horrible neglect, abuse and death of Phoenix. But they pleaded with jurors to only find them guilty of manslaughter, which carries no mandatory minimum penalty.

Saull had argued McKay and Kematch were equally guilty of murdering Phoenix in the course of confining her to a cold, dark basement where she was frequently beaten and forced to sleep on the floor naked. He reminded jurors about other graphic testimony, including claims the girl was shot with a pellet gun, called degrading names and forced to eat her own vomit.

"This is not normal parenting in any country in this world. That was an illegal domination of a child," Saull said. "Death here for this little girl was inevitable, given the course of conduct by these two accused."

Saull said it's irrelevant how the abuse specifically broke down between Kematch and McKay.

"Don't fall into that trap. Whether one went 10 or 20 punches more, or one used a weapon and one didn't, it doesn't matter," he said. He singled out Kematch for continuing to collect social welfare cheques in Phoenix's name and trying to mislead investigators by passing off another young child as Phoenix.

Saull said it's obvious Phoenix was being confined in the home, which is an essential element to proving first-degree murder. There is evidence of exterior locks on doors and a makeshift wooden pen that was constructed for her in the basement.

"This little girl wasn't going anywhere unless these two people let her," he said.

Parents blamed each other

Kematch’s lawyer, Sarah Inness, admitted to jurors her client doesn’t deserve any sympathy. But she pointed the finger of blame at McKay, saying he was the one who delivered the fatal blows and then orchestrated the cover-up which saw Phoenix’s death remain a secret for nine months.

"She was an abusive, horrible mother. She could have prevented her daughter's death and she didn't," said Inness.

"There are many things that she should have done and should not have done. She treated her daughter terribly. But she did not kill her. (Karl) McKay killed Phoenix."

She called McKay a "violent man who ruled the home with an iron fist" and clearly "despised" Phoenix because she wasn't his biological child. She noted McKay's violent history of abusing other women and children in his life.

McKay’s lawyer, Mike Cook, fired right back and suggested Kematch was the true killer and the one who manipulated McKay.

"That woman is a cold-hearted woman," said Cook, pointing a finger directly towards the prisoner's box where Kematch sat.

"She is most definitely the type who could kill, and would kill, her own child. A callous woman who cares nothing about her child."

He argued it was ridiculous for Kematch to suggest McKay had some kind of control over her.

"This is not some wallflower type of woman who has been intimidated and dominated by Mr. McKay. Ms. Kematch was the dominant force in that house," said Cook, who believes Kematch began to turn on Phoenix after giving birth to another baby in 2004.

"She rejected that child to the point it became easy to abuse her," said Cook.

He told jurors to remember how upfront McKay was with police following his arrest, even leading them to Phoenix's burial site.

"Mr. McKay is a truthful man. You can accept and believe everything he said," said Cook.

Police interview tapes released

Newly released videotapes of police interviews with McKay and Kematch show how the two quickly turned on each other after arrest.

"Samantha would treat her (Phoenix) like an animal," McKay told RCMP Sgt. Norman Charett in the video. He claimed to have no idea how Phoenix had died but said she was repeatedly beaten by Kematch.

McKay described finding the cold and lifeless Phoenix lying on her stomach on top of a pile of dirty clothes. He said he tried to revive her by administering CPR and when that failed he took her naked body to an upstairs bathroom to give her a warm bath in a vain attempt to revive the child.

"I checked her again... She was cold dead," McKay said. "I was scared. I didn't know what the hell to do. I didn't want to kill the little kid."

McKay said that when they realized Phoenix was dead, they took her body back to the basement. He said that Kematch instructed him to wrap her body in a sheet of polyvinyl, taped it tight and then wrapped an old yellow raincoat around her. He said that when they returned home, Kematch was obsessed with removing any traces the child had been there.

McKay said Kematch later told him to scrub the basement floor with bleach to remove blood and other stains and he later painted the entire floor.

'I had to tell the truth'

In Kematch's video, she apologized to her slain daughter and even wrote a letter to her in the police interview room.

"I'm so sorry, Phoenix. I didn't mean to. But that doesn't cut it. I know you're never gonna come back. You didn't mean no harm to anybody. Told my lawyer I wasn't gonna say anything. Can't keep this in forever. I had, I had to tell the truth," Kematch said to herself.

She claimed McKay would sometimes expose himself to the girl and make suggestive comments. And she maintained her innocence, pointing the finger of blame at McKay and claiming Phoenix was alive the last time she saw her.

"I didn't kill her. I didn't beat her to death... I didn't move the body. She was breathing, breathing like a normal person," Kematch said.

She said McKay told her to get garbage bags to wrap Phoenix's body before disposing of it in the woods.

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