Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Horrible things' happened to little girl

Succumbed to

prolonged periods

of abuse, neglect

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Phoenix Sinclair was being deprived of food and forced to eat her own vomit in the days before she finally succumbed to a prolonged period of abuse and neglect that included being repeatedly shot with a pellet gun and choked unconscious, jurors heard Wednesday.

"Some horrible things have happened to that little girl," a visibly distraught Cpl. Tara Clelland-Hall told the girl's mother, Samantha Kematch, near the end of a four-hour videotaped interview following her March 2006 arrest.

"It absolutely breaks my heart the things that little girl went through in her short little life."

Kematch and her former common-law husband, Karl McKay, are on trial for first-degree murder for the June 2005 death of Phoenix on the Fisher River First Nation about 200 kilometres north of Winnipeg. The killing wasn't discovered by police until McKay's teenaged son told his mother about what happened 10 months later.

The boy, now 18, took the witness stand Wednesday and pointed the finger of blame directly at McKay and Kematch, accusing them of countless violent and degrading acts and describing how Phoenix morphed from a "chubby" and happy child into a skinny child covered in cuts and bruises who would spend nearly every minute laying in her room without any food.

He wiped away tears as he told court how he tried offering a helping hand to his stepsister, who had been kept a virtual prisoner in her own home. He described trying to feed a starving Phoenix some bread and water only to be caught and threatened by Kematch.

"Samantha said what the f--k are you giving my daughter food for?" he said.

"I'd feel sorry for her. She would say 'I'm hungry'."

He said McKay repeatedly played a "game" with Phoenix that he called "chicken" which involved picking her up by the throat, wrapping both hands around her neck and "choking her out."

"Then he'd throw her to the ground," said the teen, noting visible finger marks would be left on her neck. "She'd make this weird scream. It was like someone had cut off her arm, like she was screaming to death."

McKay also liked to shoot Phoenix with a pellet gun, telling the girl to "run" and then shooting her repeatedly in the back and making her cry out in agony.

"He'd shoot her for the fun of it," he said, noting the abuse would leave pellet marks all over her back.

The teen said Kematch would often hit Phoenix with a metal bar and stool, especially when she'd urinate or defecate in her pants after Kematch refused to let her go to the washroom. Sometimes McKay and Kematch would throw Phoenix around, either to the ground or into furniture, he said. They also shaved the girl's head bald, court was told.

Kematch's lawyer, Roberta Campbell, suggested to the teen in cross-examination that it was McKay who was "most violent" with Phoenix. She also accused McKay of calling Phoenix degrading names like "f--king little baby" and "whore" while beating her.

"They were doing the same thing, equally," the teen replied.

"Isn't it true that sometimes he would hit Phoenix so much that she wouldn't even cry anymore?" asked Campbell.

"Yes," he answered.

McKay's lawyer, Mike Cook, suggested some of Phoenix's injuries could have been suffered during friendly "wrestling matches" that his client was having with the little girl. McKay's son said he believed the physical abuse was intentional, not accidental.

Earlier in the day, the 10-woman, two man jury watched the last portion of Kematch's video statement in which she blamed McKay for Phoenix's death and said he refused to let her go to police to disclose what happened.

"I feel ashamed. I feel stupid. She didn't deserve anything like that. I think about it every day," she said. "I didn't want to see my kid like that. It hurt to see her like that. He wouldn't let me help her. He'd get mad at me."

However, Kematch admitted to beating Phoenix at times for no clear reason.

"I'd hit her because I'd get mad at her. I knew that wasn't right," she said.

Jurors heard how Phoenix spent her last hours naked, with an injury to her buttocks, lying on a cold basement floor. Kematch says McKay pushed her daughter violently to the ground, causing the child to bang her head on the concrete the day before her death.

"I know it wasn't planned," Kematch said.

"We didn't do it purposely. It was just something that got out of hand. An accident. This wasn't supposed to happen. I never wanted this to happen."

She said McKay asked her to bring him a garbage bag to wrap the child in when they discovered the next day she wasn't breathing. She said McKay put Phoenix in the trunk of a car, and buried her in a hole in a wooded area near the dump at Fisher River reserve.

The trial continues today with McKay's youngest son expected to testify against him on behalf of the Crown.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 13, 2008 A5

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