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Three Manitoba Court of Appeal justices took less than an hour Friday to decide to uphold the first-degree murder conviction of a man who killed his ex-girlfriend and buried her in someone else's grave.

A jury convicted Michael Bradley Bridges in June 2005 of strangling 18-year-old Erin Chorney after a fight, drowning her in a bathtub and leaving her overnight before burying her in an elderly woman's freshly dug grave in April 2002.

Defence lawyer Greg Brodsky argued Friday the crime wasn't premeditated, but was the result of a dispute that escalated.

"First-degree murder needs to have a plan at the beginning," said Mr. Brodsky. "Checking to see if Erin Chorney was dead, then continuing on is not planning - it's continuing to kill."

But the appeal justices found the trial judge gave the jury all its possible options in his final instructions.

Ms. Chorney's disappearance in April 2002 in her hometown of Brandon, Man., led to a countrywide missing person's search.

The case remained unsolved for nearly two years until police tricked Mr. Bridges into confessing by launching an elaborate Hollywood-style sting operation.

Mr. Bridges confessed on hidden video to an undercover agent posing as a member of a gang he was eager to join. The agent convinced Mr. Bridges he could make big money so long as he was honest and told a shadowy but all-knowing boss about all his past crimes.

Mr. Bridges admitted he choked the young woman into unconsciousness, panicked when he realized he was likely going to jail and decided to "finish her off" by first strangling her with an electrical cord and then holding her head in a bathtub filled with water.

Ms. Chorney's father and aunt, who travelled from Brandon to attend the hearing, smiled at the judges' decision but declined comment.

Mr. Bridges' mother and sister - who works as a jail guard - sat expressionless in the front row. Mr. Bridges, 26, also showed no emotion.

Mr. Brodsky initially made the sting the focus of his appeal when he filed his notice in July 2005, saying all the evidence it yielded, including the confessions, should be excluded.

But he instead focused his arguments Friday on the jury's finding that Mr. Bridges had planned to kill Ms. Chorney, saying he should have been guilty of second-degree murder instead.

A first-degree conviction carries a life sentence with no parole for 25 years, while Mr. Bridges could have applied for parole after 10 years if convicted of second-degree murder, said Mr. Brodsky.

"Fifteen years is a long time out of someone's life," said Mr. Brodsky. "We wanted to take the best chance at winning so we took the strongest points and argued those."

Crown prosecutor Rick Saull agreed that Mr. Bridges didn't set out to kill Ms. Chorney.

But he said it's still first-degree murder because he made a calculated decision to kill her once he realized she was unconscious and there would be consequences for him if she woke up and reported him.

"She was a living witness," said Mr. Saull. "Our position is the planning happened once he realized he was in trouble."

He said it's unusual for prosecutors to have an accused offer investigators such an inside look at their motives and reasoning, but the undercover videotape does just that. Mr. Brodsky said he'll consider an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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