Is it possible to feel sorry for someone who commits one of the most vile and senseless killings you'll ever hear about?
Crown attorney Ami Kotler posed a very interesting question in court this week at the sentencing hearing for the 12-year-old girl who took part in the sadistic slaying of a completely innocent stranger.
"It's appropriate for the court to ask to what degree is it fair to expect someone to know how to behave when no one has taught them. Where was this accused to learn pro-social behaviour? Where were her roles models?" asked Kotler.
We heard how the girl, now 15, has grown up in an environment of abuse, neglect and abandonment. Her mother taught her how to smoke crack cocaine at a very young age. Her family has a 20-year history with Child and Family Services.
"She was raised in an environment without rules, structure or consequences. Her street cred is all that matters. She feels like she must react to any disrespect, real or imagined," Kotler said.
Audrey Cooper did nothing to disrespect this girl and her friends, which allegedly included two 14-year-old girls and a 15-year-old boy. Cooper was simply standing alone outside her house when she was jumped without any warning or provocation.
As I detailed in my story in Wednesday's Free Press - which is certainly not for the faint of heart - Cooper suffered 64 separate injuries in the attack, including seven broken ribs, a lacerated liver, swelling that shut both of her eyes and bleeding on the brain that caused fatal head trauma.
Her killers beat her until she was unrecognizable, stripped her of all clothing and then urinated on her as they laughed and tossed loose change on her body as they fled the scene.
"That's all she's worth," one of them later told police.
Police told me at the time it was one of the most shocking cases they've ever seen. And after hearing the facts in court for the first time this week, it's hard to disagree.
This is a killing as random as they come. The victim could have been anyone who happened to be standing outside that night.
It's obvious there was no guidance or supervision for any of these youths - consider the fact they were roaming the streets, bored and apparently looking for trouble, at 2:45 in the morning.
But does that mean society ought to look at them any differently? Should we all accept some blame for how these kids turned out?
I received the following e-mail early Wednesday morning from a reader.
I was drawn to write to you about the article about the 12 year old girl who took part in the beating death of an innocent woman. As an employee of The Winnipeg School Division, I am thinking how badly the system let her down. In my experience compassion and empathy training starts in kindergarten. By 12 years she should have had some inkling that what she and the others were doing was wrong. Thanks for listening.
While discussing this case on CJOB radio Wednesday morning, host Richard Cloutier wondered aloud whether the parents of this girl should be charged for essentially being an accessory to the crime their daughter committed?
Although we know that isn't going to happen, it does provide some interesting food for thought.
I don't believe a horrible upbringing should ever be an excuse to commit a crime. That's a slap in the face to people who had a less-than-stellar childhood but persevered and made something positive of their lives.
However, I'm not blind to the reality that we have children in our community growing up in the kind of environments we wouldn't wish upon our worst enemy.
So is it any surprise when we end up hearing stories like this?
We know Audrey Cooper never had a fighting chance on that fateful night. But what about the 12-year-old girl who helped end her life?