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This article was published 14/12/2008 (2870 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Friday afternoon, a jury found Samantha Kematch and Karl McKay guilty of first-degree murder for their roles in the 2005 death of five-year-old Phoenix Sinclair.
The little girl suffered months of abuse, torture and neglect before she was killed. Her body was then buried in the woods on the Fisher River First Nation and not uncovered until nine months later.
The tragic case triggered several reviews of Manitoba's child welfare system and will eventually be the subject of a provincial inquest.
Kematch and McKay were given automatic life sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years. The pair is expected to appeal.
On Sunday afternoon, Kematch sat down with Free Press justice Mike McIntyre for an exclusive interview inside the Winnipeg Remand Centre.
Here is his report.
The scowl is gone, her lips no longer pursed as she utters the words that so many had hoped to hear in court 48 hours earlier.
"I failed her," Samantha Kematch says, her eyes cast downward and showing a hint of tears.
"She never deserved any of this to happen to her. She deserved better."
It is the first public show of remorse from Kematch, who displayed no tangible emotion during her month-long trial, and made no apologies in her brief and bitter final remarks before being sentenced on Friday.
Kematch wants the public to know she's not some heartless automaton.
"You guys can sit there and say I have no feelings. Well, everyone shows their emotions in different ways. Not everyone cries. I'm one to hold their tears," Kematch says.
"I'm not the type to freak out. I control my crying. But I hurt inside."
Saying sorry isn't the only reason Kematch is speaking out. She wants to explain her courtroom comments, in which she told the judge that people will likely "never know the truth" and accused her former lover, McKay, of wrongly taking her down with him.
"I didn't kill my daughter, I didn't do these things to her like everyone says I did," Kematch says.
"What did I do to her? I loved her."
Jurors were told during the trial they could find McKay and Kematch guilty of murder based on acts of commission or omission, which likely applied more to Kematch's role in the tragedy.
Admitting she's "not the best parent in the world or anything," Kematch insists she was powerless to stop an abusive McKay from slowly taking Phoenix's life. And she paints herself as a victim as well, claiming McKay would often take out his anger on her.
"I tried to stop it. That's where I failed. I failed her, I failed myself. But I tried to stop (McKay) from doing things to her. I would even take a beating so she wouldn't take it," she says.
In a videotaped interview with police, McKay said Kematch treated Phoenix "like an animal."
"She really disliked the girl from since I met her," he said in the police videotape.
McKay admitted that he would administer "a licking" to Phoenix's bottom occasionally, but denied wrongdoing, saying it was Kematch who abused her the most, refusing to give her food, constantly yelling at her and insisting she remain in the basement.
McKay told police that once they realized Phoenix was dead, they took her body back to the basement. He said that Kematch instructed him to wrap Phoenix's body in a sheet of polyvinyl, taped it tightly and then wrapped an old yellow raincoat around her before driving to the reserve dump and burying Phoenix in a shallow grave.
McKay said that when they returned home, Kematch was obsessed with removing any trace that the child had been there. He said she initially wanted to return to the dump site to chop off the child's head in the belief that would eliminate DNA evidence.
He 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.
On Sunday, Kematch had this to say: "I get so frustrated. He's only trying to make himself look good. I loved Phoenix and I cared for Phoenix. He's just sitting there, denying that he did anything."
She admits to having thoughts about attacking McKay in the witness box they shared during the trial. Those thoughts intensified after Friday's verdict and led to a sheriff's officer having to sit between them.
"I was really angry, I was shaking," she says.
Under questioning Sunday, Kematch admitted she passed up many opportunities when she was alone with Phoenix and could have fled the home, call police, contact a friend or family member or take the injured girl to a hospital.
"If I could go back and change all of this from happening, I'd do it in a second. A lot of people don't understand how these kinds of relationships work. The relationship was abuse, controlling, possessive. When you're in an abusive relationship it's not like you can just get up and leave. It's not easy to walk away," she says.
Jurors heard about McKay's violent past, which includes convictions for beating the mother of his two teenage sons, who went to police in 2006 to report what they'd witnessed happening to Phoenix inside the Fisher River home.
The boys were key witnesses for the Crown and described McKay and Kematch as equal partners in abusing Phoenix, which included frequent beatings, making her sleep naked in the cold basement, confining her to a makeshift pen, shooting her with a pellet gun, refusing to let her use the bathroom and making her eat her own vomit.
On Sunday, Kematch admitted she was strict with Phoenix at times, but claimed McKay did all the physical damage.
One of the most damning pieces of evidence against Kematch was the fact she tried to hide Phoenix's death by pretending another little girl was her daughter during a meeting with child welfare officials.
"I didn't want to go and pass off someone else's kid to hide the fact she was gone. It was (McKay's) idea to start doing s--t like that," Kematch says.
"I wanted to tell them about this but he said no."
She says McKay was also behind her registering for child benefits in Phoenix's name, even after the girl had been killed.
Kematch says Phoenix would still be alive today if McKay, a longtime friend of her mother, hadn't entered their lives. He began asking her out after they met in December 2003.
"I didn't really want to go out with him. I was single and I wanted to enjoy it for a while. Plus he was so much older than me (20 years)," Kematch says.
She eventually agreed, and the pair went on to have two children together prior to their arrest in March 2006.
"(Before McKay), Phoenix and I were good. We laughed, had fun, we'd play. We'd say we loved each other, hug each other. That was life for me and Phoenix before he came into the picture," she says.
Being convicted of her daughter's killing is just the latest in a long line of tragedies for Kematch.
When she was a child, her alcoholic father died after falling down a flight of stairs. Her oldest brother committed suicide in Swan River when she was 12. She and her two other brothers bounced around in foster care because their mother was unfit to care for them. She only finished her Grade 9 and has a spotty employment history. She admits she had problems with drugs and alcohol in the past.
Kematch says the reality of her conviction hasn't hit her yet. Barring a successful appeal, she isn't eligible for parole until 2031, when she will be 50 years old.
"I don't really feel like it's happened yet. I guess I'm feeling mixed emotions about it. I feel better in a way that this case is done so that (Phoenix) can rest," Kematch says.
"But of course I'm going to appeal. This isn't right."