'Vile and evil': Alberta mother who drugged, burned 9-year-old daughter gets life sentence

For the "vile and evil" crime of fatally drugging and burning her daughter following a custody dispute, a Calgary judge sentenced Laura Coward, 50, to life in prison with no chance of parole for 18 years.

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Scott Brooker said Coward's sentence must reflect "society's disgust and outrage."

"Amber was completely vulnerable to and trusting of her mother," said Brooker. "It was the ultimate betrayal and breach of trust for Ms. Coward to kill her daughter."

Amber's father, Duane Lucius, held back tears as he spoke outside the courtroom after his ex-wife was sentenced.

"No sentence will do justice for what has happened to Amber," said Lucius.

"As a father, I have had to bury my child and nothing will bring her back. I can only hope that other children are not being used as bargaining chips in a divorce or used to hurt the other parent."

Coward was originally charged with first-degree murder but pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in February. 

Prosecutors Mac Vomberg and Jillian Pawlow had proposed a 20-year parole ineligibility, while defence lawyer Jim Lutz asked the judge to consider allowing Coward to apply for release after 10 to 12 years.

"There's no way you could ever put into numbers how significant the offence is," said Lutz after the sentence was handed down. "Everybody's pretty broken up about this."

Coward arrested at scene

Three days before nine-year-old Amber Lucius was drugged and burned alive by Coward, her parents' divorce was finalized, confirming her father would have full custody. 

The girl had been visiting her mother on the Labour Day long weekend and was supposed to be returned to her father two days before her body was found.

Coward told friends and her other daughter she was going to take Amber stargazing, but drove to a Tim Hortons and then to a rural property. 

There, Coward gave her daughter sleeping pills she had stolen from a friend before setting her SUV on fire with Amber inside.

Amber's body was found in the SUV that had been parked on a rural road near Sundre, about 100 kilometres northwest of Calgary, in September 2014.

In his 30 years as a prosecutor, Vomberg said, this is one of the most disturbing cases he's ever seen.

"Virtually everybody who's come close to this case has suffered," said Vomberg. "The damage done to virtually everybody involved is widespread and very traumatic."

Read Duane Lucius's full statement below:

Today is another reminder of my devastating loss. Amber was an innocent child and a selfish act ended her life.

I had only had one year with Amber to renew our bond as father and daughter. During that time Amber was always helping me on the farm and loved playing outside. She was a happy little girl loved by the entire community.

Since the moment Amber was born, she was the light of my life. She was energetic, talkative and full of joy. I will never get to watch my daughter grow up, but I know she would have done great in life.

No sentence will do justice for what has happened to Amber. As a father, I have had to bury my child and nothing will bring her back. I can only hope that other children are not being used as bargaining chips in a divorce or used to hurt the other parent. No parent should ever take a child's life just to get back at the other. We are supposed to provide our children with love, not scare them. Because of this situation she was taken away from me, and all who loved her, far too soon.

Amber was my life and I will miss her every day until my end. I will never forget her.