The man accused of killing a 13-year-old girl in Quebec's Laurentians region about two years ago pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of second-degree murder on Friday in the Saint-Jerôme courthouse.
Judge France Charbonneau endorsed the Crown and defence's joint suggestion that François Sénécal, 53, spend at least 19 years behind bars.
A conviction of second-degree murder triggers an automatic life sentence, with no possibility of parole for at least 10 years.
Océane Boyer was found on the side of the road on Feb. 26, 2020 in Brownsburg-Chatham, Que., about 85 kilometres northwest of Montreal. She died from severe head trauma.
During the legal proceedings, an ambulance worker testified that Boyer was still clinging to life when she was found in the snow.
Sénécal, who was a close friend of Boyer's family, was arrested the next day and charged with first-degree murder.
Sénécal was suspected of abducting his victim on her way to school and then forcing her to drink alcohol and take drugs before beating her to death with a blunt object.
The evidence against Sénécal included video from a car wash, where he was seen trying to clean away evidence.
According to the testimony of Sénécal's ex-spouse, Marie-Anne Latreille, Boyer had been like a granddaughter to the couple.
Sénécal had known the teenager since birth, and over time, had gotten into the habit of buying her gifts and back-to-school clothing. The girl referred to him as "uncle."
It was revealed in court that Sénécal began sexually abusing the girl in the summer of 2019, Radio-Canada reports.
When the victim tried to see a psychologist, the accused worried his sexual contact with the girl would be reported to youth protection authorities, as is mandatory in this type of case.
The killing and the ensuing arrest rocked both the accused and the victim's families, who had close ties going back years.
In court on Friday, Sénécal made a tearful apology for killing the girl.
"I'm going to blame myself for the rest of my life," he said. "My apologies don't fix anything, but I apologize just the same. I'm sorry."
He said he was also sorry for having hurt everyone, both his family and that of the girl's.
"I ask forgiveness, but I don't know how. It's not forgivable what I did," he said.