More than a decade after the death of their teenage daughter - swarmed, beaten, then drowned in a savage killing that drew worldwide attention - the heartaches for the family of Reena Virk keep on coming.
In a stunning decision believed to be without legal precedent, the B.C. Court of Appeal has ordered yet another trial - a fourth - for Kelly Ellard, first convicted of second-degree murder eight years ago for her role in Reena's death.
"There are no words to describe the feeling that I have," Reena's mother, Suman Virk, said yesterday, staring blankly at reporters gathered outside her Victoria home. "Shock. Disbelief. I can't believe it."
The Virks and Reena's grandparents, Tarsen and Mukand Pallan, were in court throughout Ms. Ellard's preliminary hearing and three subsequent trials, full of grim details about Reena's slaying on a moonlit November night in 1997.
But now, with the latest setback, they say they are finished with the process.
"I think we want to wash our hands of this now, and live our life," father Manjit Virk said bitterly. "No more do I want to place any trust in this system. ... It has become like a sad joke."
Grandfather Mr. Pallan, who remembers Reena as "a very loving, very friendly little girl," said his wife couldn't stop crying when she got the news of the court decision overturning Ms. Ellard's conviction.
"We went to three trials. We were there every day. We listened to everything. We don't want to see that girl's face again. We are getting old. We want to put this behind us," Mr. Pallan said.
Reena, 14, was badly beaten by a male youth and a group of seven teenage girls, one of whom put a cigarette out on her forehead. As Reena staggered across the Craigflower Bridge in suburban Saanich, two members of the group, Warren Glowatski and Ms. Ellard, followed her, according to the Crown, and killed her.
Ms. Ellard, then 15, was accused of holding Reena's head under water until she drowned.
Mr. Glowatski was convicted in 1999 of second-degree murder. He is now on parole, after expressing remorse over his crime and reconciling with the Virk family.
Ms. Ellard's first murder conviction was overturned on appeal because of improper Crown questioning of a witness. A second trial ended in a hung jury, with a lone juror holding out against a guilty verdict. Ms. Ellard was convicted again by a jury in 2005 and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole eligibility for seven years.
But a 2-1 ruling by the B.C. Court of Appeal found that trial judge Robert Bauman erred by allowing prosecutor Catherine Murray to re-examine a witness about her testimony that she saw Mr. Glowatski and Ms. Ellard following Reena across the bridge, and failing to put the re-examination into a proper context when addressing the jury.
Lawyers said they have never heard of a fourth trial taking place on a serious crime. Even Ms. Ellard's third trial was extremely rare, according to veteran Ontario criminal lawyer Stephen Skurka.
"I've been practising criminal law a long time and this is completely uncharted legal terrain," he said. "Just when you think you've seen everything, something like this comes up."
Ms. Ellard's lawyer, Peter Wilson, said it is difficult to imagine another trial taking place so long after the alleged crime, noting that much of the Crown's evidence is testimony from those involved in the original swarming of Reena.
"I seriously question whether, 11 years later, it is still possible to get a reliable, coherent account of what happened, when many of the girls were 13 years old and full of gossip and media reports."
He said Ms. Ellard, currently incarcerated in the Fraser Valley Institution for women prisoners, was pleased by the ruling, adding that a decision on whether to seek her release on bail hinges on the Crown's next move in the protracted case.
Given the appeal court's split decision, the Crown may opt to take the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada rather than proceed with a new trial.
B.C. Attorney-General Wally Oppal said his heart goes out to the Virk family. "I'm upset myself," he told reporters on his arrival at Vancouver International Airport from Montreal. "But these decisions are out of our hands and we have to live with them."