The young man who pleaded guilty to killing 15-year-old Laura Szendrei was arrested after a Mr. Big operation that drew him into a Call of Duty video game tournament.
Ms. Szendrei was on her way to meet friends in a Delta, B.C., park in September, 2010, when she was assaulted. She died in hospital the next day, her family by her side.
Police in Delta, a bedroom community about 25 kilometres south of Vancouver, announced an arrest in February, 2011. The details of how they nabbed their suspect were disclosed in his preliminary hearing, which began in Surrey provincial court in late August.
The young man – who just turned 20, but was 17 at the time of the attack and cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act – pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Thursday. He did not explain why he attacked Ms. Szendrei. His plea allows evidence from the preliminary hearing to be published.
The court heard that police set up the tournament after learning that the young man was a fan of the Call of Duty video game series and paired him with a undercover officer.
He was then introduced to a second undercover officer, who claimed to be wealthy and to have police contacts who could help the young man if he had any legal woes.
Crown said the young man confessed and said he brought two weapons to the park – a metal pipe, and a device designed for choking and restraining.
The young man was initially charged with first-degree murder. His plea to second-degree murder was a surprise. A trial had been expected to begin next year.
An email to the man’s lawyer did not elicit a response.
Testimony during the preliminary hearing was grisly at times. Ms. Szendrei’s best friend said she was alerted to the trouble not only by screams, but also by a pinging noise that sounded like a softball bat.
Ms. Szendrei suffered a large crack in her skull from multiple blows – a fact that sent her father racing from the courtroom when it was disclosed during the hearing.
The best friend told the court Ms. Szendrei was on her stomach when she reached her, bleeding severely from her head. One of Ms. Szendrei’s flip-flops was falling off, the other was nowhere to be seen.
The friend said the next person she saw – aside from her own circle – was the man who pleaded guilty on Thursday.
The attack on Ms. Szendrei – which occurred in the afternoon, at a park where several sporting events were under way – shocked Delta residents. Some expressed outrage, sadness and fear. The mayor ordered park staff to cut tree limbs and bushes to improve visibility inside Mackie Park, and asked the park chair to review other areas of concern in the city.
Ms. Szendrei’s parents, who were in court to hear the guilty plea, did not comment on Thursday. Weeks after the teen’s death, Ms. Szendrei’s mother remembered her as a feisty spirit with dreams of getting married, having four children, and becoming a nurse.
Delta Police Chief Jim Cessford, in a statement, offered “most sincere and continued sympathy” to the Szendrei family on Thursday.
“This has been an unspeakable tragedy for the family and friends of Laura to endure,” he wrote. “It is my hope that the outcome today will give some solace and closure knowing the person responsible will be held accountable for his incomprehensible actions.”
Chief Cessford endorsed the second-degree murder plea because Crown will seek an adult sentence.
The young man will be sentenced next year.
Constable Ciaran Feenan, a Delta police spokesman, said Ms. Szendrei’s death shook the community.
“When something like this happens in a community, with someone so young, and people knew her from so many different areas, from sports to school, it really did impact parents, young people, students at the school, teachers at the school,” he said in an interview. “It really ran the gamut. It’s not something that’s a regular occurrence here in Delta.”