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A Manitoba woman who, as a child, witnessed her mother kill her father, was sentenced to 12 years behind bars Wednesday for suffocating her own daughter while they were staying at a Winnipeg women's shelter.

Nicole Redhead had already pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of 20-month-old Jaylene, who had been in the care of the province and returned to Ms. Redhead shortly before she was killed.

Those who loved the toddler say they are still haunted by her violent death and wonder why nothing was done to prevent it.

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"God gave us these kids to look after, not to destroy them," said Jaylene's grandmother, Sky Sanderson, after sentencing. "Not to beat them to death, not to smother them to death. No, God gave these children to us to look after and to love and cherish them.

"How come nobody heard a little girl crying who could not speak and call for help?"

Court heard Ms. Redhead, 29, had her three children taken away by Child and Family Services but regained custody of Jaylene in 2009. She was in a women's shelter that summer when she became violent with the crying two-year-old.

Ms. Redhead held her hand over her daughter's mouth until Jaylene stopped breathing and then put her back in her crib. She later talked to her boyfriend - who was in jail - over the phone and told him what had happened. He called the shelter but by the time they found the girl and started CPR, it was too late.

During the autopsy, medical examiners found 30 separate bruises over Jaylene's body, including some that had not yet risen to the surface. She had bruising suggesting she had been punched repeatedly in the stomach and adult bite marks on her thigh, court heard.

The case is just one of several that continue to raise questions about Manitoba's troubled child welfare system.

"She was supposed to be supervised," Ms. Sanderson said, weeping. "Why did nobody come forward? If I was there, I would have kicked the door open and done everything I could to get my granddaughter out of there. But nobody seemed to hear that little girl."

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Jaylene's death followed the horrific case of Phoenix Sinclair - a five-year-old who spent most of her life in foster care and was killed after being returned to her mother Samantha Kematch.

Phoenix's death went unnoticed for months. Ms. Kematch and her boyfriend, Karl McKay, were later convicted of first-degree murder. A provincial inquiry into her death has been called.

In another recent case, two-year-old Gage Guimond was removed from a foster home and given to his great-aunt, Shirley Guimond, despite the fact she had a criminal record. The boy was beaten and died after falling down stairs.

In Ms. Redhead's case, Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said Jaylene's death was the culmination of "gruesome abuse."

"Having already caused the injuries that gave rise to what I was told reasonably would have been cries of pain by the deceased, the accused then placed her hand over the deceased's mouth for between 70 seconds and two minutes," Mr. Joyal said in his decision.

"One need only count to 70 and reflect upon what it was the accused was doing to a helpless 20-month-old child to realize the utter senselessness of such an act."

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Mr. Joyal acknowledged Ms. Redhead's own "horrific family background," which included at the age of 9 witnessing her father's murder at the hands of her mother in a "drunken rage." For two years after, Ms. Redhead bounced around five foster homes. She was abused as a preteen, eventually becoming addicted to crack cocaine and making a living as a prostitute.

"The accused has lived an indescribably difficult life," he said.

But he said Ms. Redhead didn't take advantage of the support available to her in the women's shelter.

And although she pleaded guilty to the crime, Mr. Joyal said Ms. Redhead hasn't shown any remorse for this "pattern of brutalization" or the death of her daughter. Instead, he said she has blamed the shelter for its lack of support.

Defence lawyer Steven Brennan said they are considering an appeal.

The Crown had asked for a sentence of 12 years, while the defence had suggested a sentence of five to six years with double credit for time she has already served.

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Ms. Redhead will serve eight years and eight months in jail after the judge agreed to give her double credit for the 20 months she has already spent behind bars.

Ms. Sanderson doesn't think that is enough.

"I lost what I love and I will never, ever bring her back," she said, crying. "She was a precious little girl. She was a darling little girl. She was everything to me."

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