CALGARY — Alberta's top court has upgraded second-degree murder convictions to first-degree murder for a father and stepmother who beat, tortured and killed their six-year-old girl.
The Court of Appeal agreed with a Crown appeal that Spencer Jordan and Marie Magoon are guilty of the more serious crime and should be sentenced to life with no parole for at least 25 years.
The couple was originally charged with first-degree murder, but found guilty last year of second-degree murder and given no chance of parole for 17 years.
The trial heard that Meika Jordan was severely abused over the course of a weekend in November 2011.
Jordan punched his daughter in the stomach and pushed her so hard her head smacked a tile floor. When she refused his order of running the stairs, he dragged her up and down the steps by her ankles and hair.
Magoon also shoved and kicked Meika on the stairs and the girl hit her head again and again. Magoon held the girl by her arms and shook her head on the kitchen floor, asking her why should wouldn't listen to her father.
It appears the first of the assaults was a burn. Magoon held Meika's hand over the flame of a lighter while the girl screamed and urinated.
The couple eventually called an ambulance and paramedics found the girl unconscious and not breathing. Jordan and Magoon told them Meika fell down some stairs.
She died the next day in hospital of head trauma.
The Appeal Court dismissed cross-appeals by the couple who wanted their convictions overturned.
Rather, the three-member panel agreed with the Crown that the trial judge had erred by not finding the couple killed Meika while committing unlawful confinement — an offence that elevates second-degree murder to first-degree murder.
"We agree with the Crown that constructive first-degree murder was created for cases like this one," said the court's decision, released Thursday.
It said the trial judge wrongly focused on the fact the girl was in the couple's care and that essentially children are always confined when they are with their parents.
"Some of the confinement was effected by fear and intimidation but also through physical means, as Meika was often violently moved from one part of the house to another. Meika's experience over the entire weekend constitutes confinement."
The court also said the couple had no right to have Meika staying with them that weekend. Jordan was supposed have his daughter on weekdays and her mother was to get her on weekends.
But Jordan had asked to keep Meika for a few extra days, saying Magoon had left him and he did not want to be alone. Court heard that was a lie. Magoon had already burned the child and they did not want to send her back to her mother with the injured hand.
Eric Tolppanen, assistant deputy minister with the prosecutions office, said in a statement that the Crown is pleased with the ruling.
"We expect this decision will further assist in the protection of children and other vulnerable people in our community," he said.
— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton
The Canadian Press