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A British Columbia construction worker lured his 10-year-old neighbour, Heather Thomas, into his home to see pictures of birds and then killed her when she resisted a sexual assault, a B.C. Supreme Court jury decided late last night.

After hearing evidence for 3½ months in a high-profile, gut-wrenching murder case, the jury of 10 men and two women took only five hours to decide that Shane Ertmoed, 24, murdered Heather.

Showing no remorse, Mr. Ertmoed continued to insist he was innocent after hearing the verdict. Moments before being sentenced to life in prison, he said he did not kill Heather.

As Heather's mother, stepmother and grandmothers cried out, he said he had been given a chance to tell the truth, "and I did."

"Justice was not served today," he said. "All that happened today was a fundamental miscarriage of justice."

Mr. Justice Wally Oppal appeared surprised by Mr. Ertmoed's remarks. He acknowledged that his opinion about Mr. Ertmoed's guilt or innocence did not matter in the trial. "But I happen to agree with the jury," he said.

"You have been found guilty of the most horrific crime known in law," Judge Oppal said. "You murdered a 10-year-old simply to satisfy your sexual desires. . . . You are 220 pounds and she weighed 70 pounds. You used bully tactics and you were not content just to kill her. You had to inflict further indignity on her by dumping her body in the water and torturing the family even more," the judge said.

Heather, who disappeared Oct. 1, 2000, was last seen alive riding her bicycle outside her father's Surrey townhouse on a Sunday afternoon.

Three weeks later, her body was found floating in Alouette Lake in Golden Ears Provincial Park.

Her disappearance sparked an emotional community search involving hundreds of people in suburban Cloverdale, outside Vancouver. When Mr. Ertmoed first appeared in court in November of 2000, demonstrators marched outside the courthouse calling for a national registry of sex offenders and tougher sentences for convicted pedophiles.

Mr. Ertmoed, who lived in the same townhouse complex as Heather and her family, was charged on Nov. 3, 2000. During a four-hour interview by police the next day, he confessed to killing the little girl. The confession was videotaped and played for the jury.

He told police he lured the child into his townhouse on the promise of showing her pictures of birds. Inside his home, he tried to take off her pants and underwear. When she resisted and screamed, he strangled her with his hands, he told police.

Testifying in his defence, Mr. Ertmoed denied knowing Heather and said he had been forced to confess under pressure.

In addressing the jury yesterday, Judge Oppal said Mr. Ertmoed could be found guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter or be found not guilty.

He told the jury that in order to convict Mr. Ertmoed of first-degree murder, they must determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was the person who killed Heather, that he caused her death intentionally and that the girl's death occurred while the accused was sexually assaulting or attempting to assault the little girl.

During closing arguments yesterday, Crown prosecutor Ron Caryer urged the jury to find Mr. Ertmoed guilty of first-degree murder, saying the accused killed Heather because he had gone too far.

During the trial, Mr. Caryer told court that Mr. Ertmoed stuffed the body of the young girl into a black hockey bag and put the bag in the back of his green 1971 Oldsmobile. With the bag in his car he went to buy gas and then a movie ticket so the receipts could provide him with an alibi, court was told. He drove to the park to hide her body and returned the next day to dump it into the lake.