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Tears and fears for Szendrei family as accused’s preliminary hearing begins

Laura Szendrei

Globe files/Globe files

There were gasps, then tears, as the young man accused of killing 15-year-old Laura Szendrei entered a provincial courtroom for the first day of his preliminary hearing.

The accused – who was 17 when Ms. Szendrei was attacked inside a North Delta Park and cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act – is charged with first-degree murder. A preliminary hearing determines whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial and it is expected to last several weeks. The judge placed a publication ban Monday on all evidence disclosed during the proceeding.

From the outset, the hearing was fraught with emotion. The mere sight of the accused left several of Ms. Szendrei's friends and family members in tears. Ms. Szendrei's mother, Rachael, and father, Mike, each sobbed as the Crown laid out its case.

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At one point the testimony forced Mr. Szendrei to race out of the courtroom. He returned a few minutes later.

Outside Surrey Provincial Court, both parents declined to speak with reporters. Ms. Szendrei walked past a group of journalists, while his wife said, "I'm not up to it today, I'm really not."

It was Sept. 25, 2010, when Ms. Szendrei was attacked inside a wooded area of Mackie Park. The park – located in the bedroom community of North Delta, about 30 kilometres southeast of Vancouver – was busy at the time, with a number of sporting events under way.

Delta police previously said Ms. Szendrei was on her way to meet a group of friends when she was badly beaten. The municipal force also said Ms. Szendrei's friends heard her scream, but by the time they arrived her attacker was gone. She died in hospital.

The teen's parents made a tearful plea for information about three weeks after her death. During that news conference, Ms. Szendrei's mother said "every parent's nightmare" had become her "unthinkable reality."

Delta police cautioned it could be some time before they were in a position to release further information about the case. In February, 2011, they announced an arrest. Police said at the time Ms. Szendrei did not know the accused.

At the time of the arrest, Ms. Szendrei's mother said, "Laura does leave a legacy with us – her smile, her kind heart, her laughter, feisty and spirited nature and her passion for life. We miss her dearly."

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The accused did not appear to speak during the morning session Monday. Dressed in a prison-issued green T-shirt, he spent much of the hearing staring down at the floor.

The preliminary hearing is scheduled to run until early October, though Crown prosecutor Wendy Stephen said outside court that it could wrap up much earlier. Ms. Stephen said the trial is expected to begin some time in 2013. She previously said she would seek an adult sentence.

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