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A photo of Garry Taylor Handlen, convicted in the 1978 murder of Monica Jack near Merritt, B.C., is displayed during a news conference in Surrey, B.C., Dec. 1, 2014.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

A British Columbia man found guilty in the death of a young girl in 1978 has lost an appeal of his first-degree murder conviction.

A unanimous ruling by the B.C. Court of Appeal rejects Garry Handlen’s argument that his confession of abducting, sexually assaulting and strangling 12-year-old Monica Jack was based on media reports and should not have been admitted at trial.

Mr. Handlen was found guilty in 2019 and sentenced to an automatic life sentence of 25 years without parole for the gruesome murder of the girl, who disappeared in Merritt, B.C., while riding her bike home to nearby Quilchena.

At his sentencing hearing in B.C. Supreme Court, Justice Austin Cullen called Mr. Handlen a sexual predator who preyed on the vulnerable and weak to commit barbaric crimes.

Mr. Handlen, who is now in his mid-70s, had already been convicted for other sexual assaults before telling an undercover officer that he was driving along a highway when he spotted Monica and that he burned her clothes and part of her body after killing her.

The decision by B.C.’s highest court says there is nothing to suggest Justice Cullen erred by accepting the evidence of four witnesses in the case that heard the girl’s remains were found off a logging road 17 years after she disappeared.

“In my view, the judge committed no error in his ruling,” Justice Elizabeth Bennett says in a written ruling on behalf of three justices.

Before he was sentenced, Monica’s family gave tearful victim-impact statements in court, saying decades without knowing what happened to the happy girl took an emotional toll on them and their community.

Glen Jack said he had already suffered the trauma of beatings in residential school before dealing with the loss of his sister, whose bike he found the day after she was last seen riding it.

“For 40 years I felt responsible for not being able to protect Monica,” he said through tears.

Mr. Jack said police questioned him for days while he was serving time in jail for break and enters, adding he had become a convenient suspect.

Just four months after Mr. Handlen murdered Monica, he was handed a 12-year sentence for sexually assaulting another young woman.

In sentencing him, Justice Cullen called Mr. Handlen “among the worst of offenders” and said his actions were certain to bring an innocent child terror and pain before her life was savagely ended.

However, the judge excluded Mr. Handlen’s confession during a so-called Mr. Big police operation in November, 2014, that he also killed another young girl three years earlier.

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