CALGARY — The father of a nine-year-old girl drugged and killed by her mother says no prison sentence will do his daughter justice.
"I will never get to watch my daughter grow up, but I know she would have done great in life," Duane Lucius said Friday as he clutched a photo of his daughter Amber.
"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."
His former wife, Laura Coward, was sentenced Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole for 18 years after pleading guilty in a Calgary courtroom last month to second-degree murder.
The life sentence was automatic, but it was up to Court of Queen's Bench Justice Scott Brooker to decide how long she'd have to wait before being able to seek parole.
The judge said it was "the ultimate betrayal for Miss Coward to kill her own daughter."
"In murdering your own daughter you have committed a vile and evil crime," he said. "This court must express society's disgust and outrage to denounce your evil act."
Brooker said Coward deserved credit for pleading guilty and for showing remorse, but he noted she never explained why she killed Amber.
"The only logical inference to draw from the facts is Miss Coward murdered her daughter as a means of getting back at, and punishing, Amber's father."
Court documents described a bitter divorce between Coward and Lucius. A custody tug-of-war over their daughter had continued up until the girl was found dead.
Prosecutor Mac Vomberg called the case disturbing.
"In the more than 30 years I've been involved in criminal justice, this has been one of the most disturbing cases I've ever had to deal with. The damage done to virtually everybody involved is widespread and very traumatic," Vomberg said outside court.
"Virtually everybody who's come close to this case has suffered."
Coward wiped away tears after the sentencing. Her lawyer, Jim Lutz, said it's been hard on his 50-year-old client as well.
"The family is without their daughter. She's without her daughter. Everybody's pretty broken up about this," said Lutz.
He said his client's remorse is genuine.
"No one misses their daughter more than she does, although the critics and the counterpoint will be why did you kill your daughter then?" he said.
"But it's more complicated than just that."
Amber was reported missing in August 2014 and her mother was arrested two days later near Sundre in west-central Alberta. She was standing outside a burned truck in which her daughter's body was discovered.
Court earlier heard that Coward had had Amber for the weekend and, on a trip to a remote area, gave her a toxic but non-lethal dose of a prescription sleeping medication. She mistakenly thought Amber was dead and filled the truck — while Amber was unconscious inside — with paper and plastic totes before setting it on fire with a propane torch and closing the door.
An autopsy suggested the girl died of a combination of hypothermia, smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide toxicity.
At her sentencing hearing last week, Coward begged the girl's father as well as her own family and friends to forgive her.
"I want to say to the father, my family, friends that I'm responsible for my choices and I beg for their forgiveness and I plead for your mercy.''
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press