Graphic details of the March, 2006, dig -- including photos and video -- began emerging Wednesday at the first-degree murder trial of Karl McKay and Samantha Kematch. The two are accused of killing five-year-old Phoenix in June, 2005, following months of abuse and neglect and then burying her body near the garbage dump on the Fisher River First Nation, about 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
RCMP learned of the burial site after McKay drew them a map and led them on a guided tour following his arrest.
Sgt. Randy Hooker, who works with the forensic identification unit, told jurors Wednesday how officers carefully sealed off the scene and brought in industrial heaters to begin melting the thick snow and thawing the frozen ground.
A large tent was erected over the site and police consulted with numerous experts, including a pathologist and anthropologist about the best way to search for Phoenix's remains without disturbing evidence.
Police began digging two days after securing the site and didn't have to go down very deep to find what they were looking for.
Signs of Phoenix began to emerge just eight centimetres beneath the surface -- pieces of the yellow rain jacket McKay said she was buried in, pieces of a black garbage bag, a yellow rope and a brass button. And then, a bone.
"It was protruding out of the ground, almost in the centre of the burial hole," Hooker said. Police ultimately found four other bones completely intact.
Their job wasn't finished. Police sifted through the soil -- at times using toothbrushes, dental picks and a magnifying glass -- to look for other evidence. They carted away several large rubber containers of dirt for further analysis. RCMP enlisted the help of the University of Manitoba department of anthropology and put several students to work examining every speck of dirt.
The investigation revealed more bone, hair and nails.
Police expanded their search to other nearby areas in the thick woods and later discovered a fully intact human skull, which was identified as Phoenix's. Other bones were found at the "scatter site," which jurors have been told is the result of animals disturbing the girl's body. An anthropologist from British Columbia is expected to testify today about her examination of Phoenix's remains.
Jurors also heard Wednesday McKay has three prior assault convictions stemming from domestic incidents. Kematch's lawyers are bringing forward that information because they plan to argue McKay has a history of violence against women and didn't allow their client to help Phoenix.
McKay's two teenage sons told jurors last week they witnessed Phoenix being repeatedly abused, neglected and degraded by McKay and Kematch during the months preceding her death. They said the couple "took turns" beating the child and then covered up the killing by wrapping her body in a tarp and burying it near the dump. Kematch then allegedly tried to pass off another young child as her daughter when child welfare officials began asking questions in March 2006.