Jitesh Bhogal has been handed an automatic life sentence without the eligibility for parole for 25 years in the brutal, random murder of 31-year-old Autumn Taggart.
The court heard Bhogal climbed into Taggart's third-floor west end apartment on June 10, 2018, went into the victim's room and put his hands over her mouth and nose until she stopped screaming. A jury found Bhogal guilty of first-degree murder last month following a seven-week trial, and also found he had committed a sexual assault.
All of this happened while Taggart's son was home, in the next room. He was nine years old at the time and testified during the trial he heard his mother screaming. The boy testified he woke up the next day and thought she was sleeping. It wasn't until later that he called his father for help. CBC has decided to protect the identity of the young boy.
"He has expressed how he later felt guilty and not knowing what happened and not getting her help sooner," said Krystle Quinlan, who also spoke for Taggart's son and Chris Sherwin, the boy's father, during her victim impact statement.
Quinlan, who is Sherwin's partner, said the boy, who's now a teenager, lives in a "constant state of fear and immense sorrow" while having a feeling of loss and isolation over missing his mother.
In court Wednesday many other victim impact statements were read. The sentencing hearing was entirely virtual because of new COVID restrictions that came into effect.
Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance handed Bhogal his life sentence, along with a lifetime weapons ban and having his DNA sample taken.
Bhogal claimed he was high on cocaine, didn't remember everything that happened and performed CPR on the victim after he suffocated her.
In court today, Justice Pomerance said she didn't believe his testimony, calling it a self-serving attempt to distance himself from murder.
Taggart's biological mother, Tammy Spratt, had the Crown attorney read her statement to the court. She described her daughter as someone who was "beautiful, witty, extremely smart, very funny, sometimes sassy and had strong opinions on many things in life."
"I have nightmares almost every night visualizing what she must have gone through in the last moments of her life," Spratt said.
One of the victim's cousins, Terra Armstrong, detailed how her life shattered after learning of what happened to Taggart.
"Over the course of the trial. I fell apart as Terra. I fell apart as a mother. I feel apart as a wife. It was like I was living outside of my own body," she said. "They watched me emotionally fall apart. They watched me not want to get out of bed. I felt like I had a thousand bricks tied to my feet and I just couldn't move."
Armstrong said Taggart's death and the court proceedings took an unimaginable emotional toll on her and she began to drink to "kill my pain."
While holding back tears, Armstrong said she has lived in fear since her cousin was murdered.
"I had an immense fear of someone coming into my house.I would check the closets, under my bed and look in places that people could hide," she said. "If someone like this could happen to my cousin, it could happen to anyone."
She described how her heart hurt, pain she had never experienced before.
Jessee Brown, another one of Taggart's cousin, shared the horror of grabbing belongings from Taggart's apartment after her body was removed.
"We gained pain. Emptiness. Trauma. Fear and exhaustion. No holiday will ever be the same," said Brown.
As a parent of three young kids, she said Taggart's death has changed her.
"My parenting now comes from a place of fear, a place of anxiety," she said.
Bhogal is 31 years old. He appeared via video in jail, wearing an orange jumpsuit and a black mask. He sat against a wall, distant from the camera while the victim impact statements were read. At the end, the judge asked if he had anything to say.
"Its hard to express the sorrow and remorse I feel. I am happy for the family that they have a sense of justice and they can move on. Part of my soul died that day as well," Bhogal said.
His lawyer, Peter Thorning, tells CBC News in an email they are considering an appeal. They were seeking a manslaughter conviction.
In the end, Justice Pomerance called Taggart a "truly innocent victim."
"This was a random and senseless act of violence that resulted in a tragic loss of life," she said.
The judge told Bhogal she hopes can be rehabilitated during his time in prison and takes steps to turn his life around.