Thomas Svekla treated his murder victim like so much stuff - trussing her up nude, bending her like a pretzel and cramming her in a hockey bag - and for that he must pay, his sentencing judge said Monday.
Justice Sterling Sanderman ordered that while Mr. Svekla is automatically sentenced to life in jail for the second-degree murder of Theresa Innes, he can't ask for parole for at least 17 years.
"We don't treat the dead with the utter contempt and utter disregard that you exhibited to Ms. Innes," Judge Sanderman told Mr. Svekla, who sat intent but impassive in the prisoner's dock.
He also excoriated Mr. Svekla for repaying the hard work of his lawyer, Robert Shaigec, with "treachery" by making inappropriate comments behind his back questioning his ability to defend him.
"You should be ashamed of yourself," said Judge Sanderman. Mr. Svekla remained impassive, boxed between a pair of armed guards in Court of Queen's Bench.
Mr. Svekla was convicted June 3 of killing Ms. Innes, 36, whom he befriended and with whom he did crack cocaine. He was also convicted of committing an indignity to her dead body, for which Judge Sanderman sentenced him Monday to a concurrent term of four years.
At the same trial he was acquitted of murder in the death of another woman, 19-year-old Rachel Quinney.
Outside court, Ms. Innes's mother, Beverley, brushed past reporters. When asked if she was satisfied with the verdict, she replied tearfully, "Very much so. He won't hurt anybody again."
Mr. Svekla's case gained national headlines because it was set against the backdrop of a manhunt for a killer or killers responsible for a number of deaths of women working as prostitutes in and around the Alberta capital.
The 40-year-old mechanic was the first person charged by a joint police task force called Project Kare. Prior to trial, police told Mr. Svekla he was a suspect in other deaths, but he has never been charged.
Second-degree murder denies any request for parole for at least 10 years. But the judge can prolong that date up to a maximum of 25 years if the aggravating circumstances of the case demand it.
Earlier Monday, Crown Prosecutor Ashley Finlayson asked for the maximum 25, characterizing Mr. Svekla as a selfish, violent, self-loathing time bomb who hurts people for kicks and needs to be kept behind bars for as long as possible.
"Mr. Svekla is a very dangerous individual," Ms. Finlayson said. "It has become a recurring theme when you look at Mr. Svekla's history. He was putting others at risk in order to meet his own needs."
Mr. Svekla, he noted, has a criminal history dating back 25 years - drunk driving, possession of stolen property, uttering threats, sex assault. Each time Mr. Svekla was let go, Ms. Finlayson noted, he ignored probation rules and got back into trouble. He was addicted to crack and told friends he took drugs to ease the emotional pain of a violent past.
Mr. Shaigec said his client's behaviour warranted a parole eligibility date of 15 years, but no more. The maximum, he said, has been imposed in only the most extreme and horrific cases of abusing a body after death - as when someone has cut up a body or had sex with it.
"Mr. Svekla tends to pale in comparison [to those cases]"
Mr. Shaigec said while Mr. Svekla's criminal history is lengthy, most of the convictions didn't even result in jail time. He told Judge Sanderman one can't assume Mr. Svekla kept the body for perverse pleasure - as Finlayson has suggested - or for any other reason, because none of that was established at trial.
Judge Sanderman agreed: "I can't find the body was kept for some evil or sinister gratification."
Mr. Svekla was arrested in the spring of 2006 after he returned from High Level in northern Alberta to visit family in Fort Saskatchewan on Edmonton's northern outskirts.
He brought with him a heavy hockey bag he said was stuffed with compost worms. His sister became suspicious, opened the bag when he was not around and found Ms. Innes's nude body so tightly bound with wire clips, garbage bags, a shower curtain and an air mattress that it took the coroner well over an hour just to untie it.
Michael Innes, the victim's adult son, stood to read aloud a victim impact statement. He spoke of a mother who was trying to turn her life around but kept in touch, and never forgot a birthday or Christmas.
"She was not there to see me graduate. She will not be there to see me get married or see her first grandchild being born," said Mr. Innes, sobbing.
Ms. Innes's mother, in a statement read aloud by Judge Sanderman, told Mr. Svekla: "There's a hole in our hearts that has never been filled. Mr. Svekla, you took a part of our family away, but you didn't destroy us."
Mr. Svekla appeared emotionless as the statements were delivered. When Judge Sanderman asked if he wished to make a statement he replied softly, "I wish to say nothing at this time."
Mr. Svekla never testified at trial, but court heard through police interview transcripts that he believed someone else planted Ms. Innes's body in his truck to frame him. He said he didn't report the body because he thought police wouldn't believe him after the Quinney affair.
Two years before he was arrested for the Ms. Innes murder, he went to police to report he had stumbled across Ms. Quinney's naked, disfigured body in a field northeast of Edmonton. He was investigated and cleared at the time, but was charged with Ms. Quinney's death after he was arrested for the Ms. Innes murder.
Judge Sanderman ruled there was no hard evidence to convict Mr. Svekla of Ms. Quinney's death. And he said statements by witnesses reporting incriminating statements and behaviour by Mr. Svekla relating to Ms. Quinney didn't ring true and appeared motivated by a zeal to convict.