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Christie Blatchford

'I hate myself for the decision I made that night' Add to ...

cblatchford@globeandmail.com

He cried, he apologized, and, in fairness, he appeared genuinely stricken by what he did, which is far more than could be said for his ex-girlfriend and convicted co-killer, Melissa Todorovic.

The young man who lured Stefanie Rengel from her home and plunged a knife into her six times - one blow so ferocious the blade went through her entire chest cavity and hit the inside of her back - and then left her alone and dying in the snow yesterday wept in court as he apologized to the dead girl's family for his "disgusting" crime.

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D.B., now 19, was the actual killer of the 14-year-old girl. Where Ms. Todorovic was the driving force behind the murder, D.B. was the blunt instrument who carried it out.

He was speaking, as the law allows, toward the close of a sentencing hearing before Ontario Superior Court Judge Ian Nordheimer; the hearing is to determine if D.B., who was just four days shy of his 18th birthday when he killed Stefanie, will be sentenced as a youth or an adult.

Wearing grey dress pants and a white shirt, the former high school football player took the witness box, though he wasn't sworn, and proceeded to read from handwritten sheets.

"I stand here before you being sentenced for the disgusting crime I committed," he said. "Nothing I can say or do can right this wrong. I can't bring Stefanie back...The only thing I can do is accept responsibility for my actions and express my deep sorrow and regret.

"I deserve whatever sentence I receive," he said.

A study in misery, D.B. frequently looked directly at the front row where Stefanie's parents, stepfather, grandparents, aunt's and brother Ian sat. He seemed to be directing his remarks chiefly to Stefanie's mother, Patricia Hung.

"I want to ask for forgiveness but realize that I can't even forgive myself," he said, face reddening with what looked for all the world like shame. "I hate myself for the decision I made that night." He pledged to work to be a better person, but, unusually for offenders who make such statements, concluded with a plea not for himself, but for his victim's family, "Although it may not mean anything coming from me, I do hope that one day all the people I have hurt can be happy again. I know that is a lot to hope for. I will bear the burden, the very heavy burden of what I did, forever. Not one day will go by where I don't regret what I did.

"To Stefanie's family, I am so sorry.

"Stefanie, I am sorry."

With that, D.B. returned to his place in the prisoner's box. For many minutes afterward, his sniffing, caught by a nearby microphone, punctuated the closing address from prosecutor Robin Flumerfelt.

Compared to the speech made by Ms. Todorovic at her sentencing in July, when she tepidly took "full responsibility for my part" and had the temerity to say "I never meant for this all to occur," the young man's words and demeanour suggested that as the two psychiatrists who examined him testified earlier, he has the capacity for human connection.

But Mr. Flumerfelt made short work of all that.

Referring specifically to the psychiatrists' conclusion, he snapped, "If D.B is capable of empathy, where was it?"

It was at this point that the young man's head hung so low that from the side, it appeared he had none, that he had been beheaded. "D.B.," Mr. Flumerfelt continued, "did nothing except run away...While Stefanie lay dying or dead in the snow, he was texting Todorovic, 'I love u hunny, I can't wait to see you."

Indeed, after the murder, with Stefanie still standing, D.B. fled first to a friend's to confess and hide his bloodied jacket and then to Ms. Todorovic's house, where after she made him re-enact the stabbing, they had sex to celebrate.

By the measures that courts use to judge such things, D.B. has done what he can to formally show remorse - he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder at an early opportunity, sparing the court a lengthy trial. Mr. Flumerfelt, however, noted wryly that the case against the young man - it consisted of three volumes of lurid MSN chats retrieved from the pair's computers and more than 5,000 cellphone calls and texts - was overwhelming.

The recovered chats and texts revealed that Ms. Todorovic had been pressuring D.B. for months - threatening to withhold sex, threatening to have sex with other boys - to kill the girl she'd never met but of whom she was obsessively jealous.

But D.B.'s lawyer, Heather McArthur, argued that the evidence also showed that her client had stalled Ms. Todorovic for months, once even staging a fake murder attempt that he hoped would placate her, before finally, impulsively, giving in to her demands.

That meant, Ms. McArthur said, that in D.B.'s case, the murder which appeared on the surface so thought out and well-planned was in fact carried out spontaneously by a young man under the thumb, and in the thrall, of the twisted and relentless girl he thought he loved.

Yet, buried in all those chats, as Mr. Flumerfelt pointed out, were also explicit references to D.B. knowing very well the difference between a youth sentence (which carries only a maximum six-year term in custody, that up for annual review, and which five years after its expiration, disappears from the record) and an adult one (which would mean an automatic life sentence, a minimum 10 years behind bars, lifelong supervision and the lifting of the publication ban protecting D.B.'s identity).

On June 21, 2008, less than six months before Stefanie's death, with Ms. Todorovic breathing down his neck as usual, D.B. wrote, "forget it I will just go to jail OK? 'cause shit is going to go wrong and I will have nowhere to run and ditch my stuff. So it's ok I guess I was right when I said I'm gunna have to get used to an 8 by 10 cell. In adult jail. 'Cause I'll get tried as an adult. I'll be in jail with 10, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 and prob some really really old guys." But for the ending, which is Judge Nordheimer's hands, it was a reasonable facsimile of what happened.

The young man who found his heart too late, bent over in the prisoner's box; Ian Rengel, now almost as old as his dead sister, with his head in his hands; Patricia Hung wiping tears: "The still, sad music of humanity," as William Wordsworth called it.

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