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Mastermind in Rengel killing seeks to avoid adult prison

Melissa Todorovic was convicted of first-degree murder in 2009 in the death of 14-year-old Stephanie Rengel.

Less than two weeks before the four-year anniversary of 14-year-old Stefanie Rengel's murder, the girl convicted of masterminding the crime is trying to avoid moving to an adult prison.

Melissa Todorovic, who was 15 at the time of the killing, turns 20 next month. Because she was sentenced as an adult, that birthday will see her transferred from Roy McMurtry Youth Centre in Brampton to Kitchener's Grand Valley Institution for Women.

She is appealing both her conviction and sentence, and her lawyers will ask a court Thursday to let her remain at McMurtry until a judge rules on the appeals.

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An affidavit sworn by Julie Santarossa, one of Ms. Todorovic's lawyers, said the young woman is enrolled in long-distance courses from Alberta-based Athabasca University, in hopes of earning a bachelor of science in biology. The program requires the use of a laptop computer and lab facilities. It took time for the prison to make such arrangements for her, and Grand Valley does not have a laptop, Ms. Santarossa wrote.

The court filings also offer some glimpses into Ms. Todorovic's life behind bars. She finished high school, earning As in most classes, and takes part in numerous social activities. In her case-management and reintegration plans, prison staff wrote that she gardens, studies French and performed a magic show to teach other inmates about math.

"Melissa has been a role model to her peer group and continues to excel in this area. Although she may not feel this to be true, it is evident in how the other peers react to her," said one report. "Melissa has a positive attitude, which affects the overall climate of the unit for the better."

She is also undergoing weekly one-on-one counselling sessions, dealing with body image and social anxiety issues, it said.

Ms. Rengel's mother, Patricia Hung, said the family plans to be in court Thursday for arguments on the motion, but declined further comment.

On her blog, Ms. Hung described hearing about Ms. Todorovic's application.

"As I missed one complete night's sleep and spent the next day trying to figure out why it upset me so much when, quite frankly, it doesn't impact our family one way or the other, I struggled to find the answer," she wrote. "Most of the day I walked around in a haze, easily brought to tears and fits of impatience with the kids, angry with myself for allowing this girl – now a woman – to impact my life for one more moment."

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Ms. Hung wrote that she ultimately realized she was upset because Ms. Todorovic was close to marking her 20th birthday, while her daughter "will now always be just [14]years old."

Ms. Todorovic was convicted in 2009 of first-degree murder for planning with boyfriend David Bagshaw, then 17, to kill Ms. Rengel. The two girls had never met, but Ms. Todorovic believed Ms. Rengel, who once had a brief friendship with Mr. Bagshaw, was her rival. Over the course of several months in 2008, Ms. Todorovic cajoled her boyfriend to do the deed, belittling him and threatening to cheat on him if he didn't go through with it.

On the first day of 2008, he called Ms. Rengel to lure her outside of her East York home, then stabbed her to death in the street.

Both were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced as adults.

Mr. Bagshaw was involved in a bloody prison brawl earlier this year, in which he allegedly attacked another inmate with a weapon. Guards shot him and another prisoner, who died. Mr. Bagshaw survived. He faces an attempted murder charge in the incident.

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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