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This article was published 8/10/2009 (3179 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Two men have admitted to their roles in the planned slaying of a young woman and her unborn child — a case described by justice officials as one of the most chilling murders in recent Winnipeg memory.
Nathanael Mark Plourde took the unusual step of pleading guilty to first-degree murder just as a high-profile jury trial was set to begin Thursday afternoon. His co-accused, Jose Manuel Toruno, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Both men face mandatory life prison terms when they are sentenced this morning.
Plourde, 21, must wait at least 25 years before applying for parole, while Toruno, 21, must serve at least a decade behind bars. The Crown can seek to have his eligibility raised to as much as 25 years.
Plourde's lawyer, Roberta Campbell, said his desire to plead guilty to the most serious charge in the Criminal Code with absolutely no personal benefit is a true sign of remorse.
"He didn't want to put the victim's family through any more of an ordeal," she said outside court.
Roxanne Fernando, 24, was lured to a violent death in February 2007, only weeks after discovering she was pregnant with Plourde's child.
Crown attorney Mark Kantor told court Thursday that Fernando wanted to have a long-term relationship with Plourde, who she met while working at McDonald's on Main Street. Plourde didn't return the feelings and hatched a plot to kill her when she refused to leave him alone.
A 17-year-old co-accused pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last year and was given the maximum youth sentence — six years of prison and four years of probation — for what was described in court as a "callous, well-planned execution." The Crown agreed not to raise him to adult court, meaning his name can't be published.
During the youth's sentencing, Crown attorney Brent Davidson told court Plourde pressured her to have an abortion. Fernando initially agreed to terminate her pregnancy but later had a "change of heart," setting in motion a disturbing chain of events, he said.
"It would be the fetus that would drive the planned and deliberate killing of Ms. Fernando," said Davidson.
Campbell disputed those facts on Thursday and said the pregnancy wasn't the motive for the killing.
Plourde offered the youth $500 and a 32-inch television to carry out the act. He initially refused, but began participating in the plot, court was told.
A meeting was set up on Feb. 15 — the day after Valentine's Day — in which Fernando had expected to exchange gifts with Plourde. She wrapped up a box of chocolates and got into a waiting car, unaware that the youth was hiding under a blanket in the back seat. He had also participated in an earlier trip to the store to buy supplies which included leather gloves and rolls of tape.
Fernando was driven to Little Mountain Park on the northwestern edge of the city on the guise of there being a "surprise" waiting there for her.
The youth sprang out from under the blanket and together with Plourde began attacking Fernando at the isolated park. Fernando was hit with a wrench up to 20 times, bound with tape and wrapped in a blanket before being stuffed in the trunk of the car.
It was thought she was dead. But as the car began driving away, sounds could be heard coming from the rear.
Panic set in and a third accused — Toruno — was picked up and paid $120 to assist in Fernando's killing. The money had been taken out of Fernando's purse by the youth as she lay dying in the trunk, court was told.
Fernando was taken to a remote area near Mollard Road and Ritchie Street in northwest Winnipeg and repeatedly beaten with a broken hockey stick until she was dead. Her body was then buried in a snow-filled ditch.
Fernando's killers went to McDonald's for a bite to eat, stopped at Safeway for some cleaning supplies for the vehicle and then text-messaged at least one of Fernando's friends — using her cellphone — indicating all was well.
Fernando's friends and family members launched a desperate search that included distributing missing persons posters and peppering the Internet with her photo and police contact information. They sent e-mail alerts to hundreds of people asking for assistance. Her body was discovered several days later.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.