Life sentences for Phoenix Sinclair murder
Samantha Kematch and her common-law husband Karl McKay have been given a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.
The automatic sentence was handed down Friday morning after a jury unanimously convicted them of the first-degree murder of Kematch's five-year-old daughter Phoenix Sinclair.
Kematch displayed no emotion when the jury pronounced the verdict, while McKay was visibly shaken.
He began to make an apology to the court but was overcome by emotion.
Kematch remained defiant to the end.
"Everybody can say what they wanna' say," she told the court. "Call me whatever you want. I never did this and I know that and Phoenix knows that."
Both jurors and some RCMP officers were in tears after the conviction, as was McKay's sister, Hilda McKay.
"I'm happy and I'm also kind of just sad -- sad for Phoenix but happy that they're getting what they are deserving," she said outside of court.
"Justice is never going to be done for this little girl. Too much happened to her."
Despite the fact that a first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic sentence, Crown Attorney Rick Saul has insisted on introducing victim impact statements, saying it is the only way Phoenix' voice will be heard.
During the trial jurors were told the girl was constantly abused by Kematch and McKay -- abuse that included being punched, kicked, shot with a pellet gun, and starved.
Court was told the girl had broken bones throughout her body and was left to die on a cold basement floor after a final assault in June 2005.
The following spring, McKay led police to the snow-covered spot where she had been buried on the Fisher River reserve not far from the family home.
Through their separate defence lawyers, Kematch and McKay blamed each other for the final blow that killed the girl.
Child and Family Services making changes
Meanwhile, Manitoba's Child and Family Services (CFS) Department has begun making changes to their operations after coming under criticism following Phoenix's death.
It took months for child welfare officials to realize Phoenix was missing, even though she had been in and out of foster care.
In 2005, a child welfare worker went to check on the family at their Winnipeg apartment. The worker never saw Phoenix, but saw Kematch's other children outside the building and assumed everything was okay. Phoenix died three months later.
The couple continued to list Phoenix as a dependent for welfare payments after her death. They were found out when they tried to pass off a much younger child as Phoenix in a meeting with child welfare workers.
Now CFS caseworkers must abide by a "Every Child Seen Every Time," policy, meaning that the workers must physically see the children when checking on foster families.
The province has also launched an investigation and a public inquiry will be held after the trial wraps up and all potential appeals have been heard.
With a report from CTV's Kelly Dehn, CTV's Jon Hendricks, CTV's Caroline Barghout, and files from the Canadian Press