Shannon Rayner sentenced to 6 years for infanticide

A Charlottetown woman convicted of infanticide for killing three of her newborn babies was sentenced Monday to six years in prison.

Shannon Dawn Rayner, 40, was charged last year after the remains of two of her infants were found on the property of a house where she was living at the time, in the Sherwood neighbourhood.

Police searched the property after being told Rayner had been pregnant twice but had no young children. The remains of a third infant were found in May of this year.

Rayner gave birth to three full-term babies over a three year period: a boy in 2014, a girl in 2015, and another boy in 2016.

Rayner was present in the courtroom, along with several members of her family, to hear the judge's decision. 

Rayner pleaded guilty to all three charges of infanticide and a charge of concealing a body of a dead child. According to the Criminal Code of Canada, a woman commits infanticide when "by a wilful act or omission she causes the death of her newly-born child, if at the time of the act or omission she is not fully recovered from the effects of giving birth."

Judge John Douglas told the court this was the most serious case he's presided over in his more than two decades as a judge.

Douglas said there were several factors he considered when handing down his sentence, including the fact that there were three separate offences, over the course of three years. He also acknowledged that even after the initial charges were laid, Rayner didn't tell police about the third baby.  

However, he said he also had to consider Rayner's guilty plea and the fact that while she told police different versions of what happened to her babies, she did co-operate with the court.

Broad range of sentences

Crown attorney John Diamond said the maximum penalty for infanticide in Canada is five years in prison, but the maximum sentence for any charge is rarely handed down by judges.

He said as he was preparing for the case, he couldn't find any infanticide cases in the country where the maximum sentence was applied. 

In fact, he said there is a broad range of sentencing for infanticide cases — from no jail time to federal prison sentences.

"Across the country the range of sentences are quite dramatic given the different circumstances. The circumstances of this case were troubling," Diamond said.

"But we also have to factor into the fact that Ms. Rayner did co-operate with the authorities. Without the information she provided and her guilty pleas, it would have been a very difficult scenario to go to trial based on the evidence we had."

Brittany Spencer/CBC

Diamond said given the circumstances of Rayner's case, he believes the sentence is appropriate. 

"The Crown's position is that it's a satisfactory disposition of a very, very difficult file."

Under the terms of the sentence, Rayner will serve six years in prison minus 13.5 months for the time she has already spent in jail.

Rayner didn't say anything during the sentencing hearing, but as she was leaving the courtroom she told her family she loved them.

Diamond said Rayner will be transported to the women's prison in Nova Scotia, where she will begin to serve her federal sentence.

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