The Manitoba Court of Appeal said Wednesday it is reserving its decision in the high-profile case. Samantha Kematch and her former common-law husband, Karl McKay, were convicted last December of the most serious charge in the Criminal Code and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
The pair admitted they were responsible for Phoenix's July 2005 death and the subsequent burial of the five-year-old girl's body near the garbage dump on the Fisher River First Nation, about 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Her remains weren't found until March 2006. Kematch and McKay then tried to cover up the killing, collecting welfare payments, listing her as a dependent and even trying to pass off another child as Phoenix.
They are now seeking lesser convictions of second-degree murder or manslaughter, which could greatly reduce the amount of time they spend behind bars. Parole eligibility can be set as low as 10 years for second-degree murder, while there is no mandatory minimum sentence for manslaughter, which suggests an unintended killing.
Kematch and McKay have frequently pointed the finger of blame at each other -- both during their trial and in exclusive jailhouse interviews with the Free Press following their convictions.
Jurors ultimately found them 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.
They heard other graphic testimony, including claims the girl was shot with a pellet gun, called degrading names and forced to eat her own vomit. Defence lawyers argued this week Phoenix may have chosen to keep herself in the basement to avoid the abuse she was suffering upstairs.
A provincial inquest will be held into Phoenix's death, based largely on the fact she had previously been under the care of Child and Family Services.