Steve Bragg has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, admitting in Supreme Court on Monday to strangling Victoria Head, a mother of one who lived in St. John's at the time of her death.
Bragg sat silently, moving only to glance up at the Supreme Court ceiling, as his prosecutor read out an agreed statement of facts.
Behind him, members of Head's family blinked back tears, hearing how Bragg asphyxiated Head with a boot lace and left her body on the side of a road in St. John's late one night in 2017.
Bragg was initially slated to stand trial for six weeks on a first-degree murder charge. In an unexpected move Monday morning, Crown attorney Lisa Stead agreed to downgrade the charge to second-degree murder, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years.
Defence lawyer Bob Buckingham requested Bragg be released on bail until his sentencing hearing on July 8 to give him the opportunity to spend time with his spouse and children and prepare for incarceration. Buckingham argued Bragg was considered a "model inmate" during a 28-month pre-trial stint at Her Majesty's Penitentiary and posed no risk of danger to himself or others.
Justice Donald Burrage would not grant bail, however, pointing out that Bragg was released from custody last year because he was presumed innocent at the time.
"You have now been convicted of one of the most serious crimes in our criminal code," he told Bragg. "I think it sends the wrong message to the family of the victim, and to the community at large, if you were allowed to walk out onto Duckworth Street."
Bragg was led away Monday morning in handcuffs as his family looked on.
DNA sting led to Bragg's arrest
Head, a 36-year-old mother from Placentia Bay, left behind a teenage daughter when she was killed on Nov. 11, 2017.
Her body was found in a field off Oxen Pond Road by a woman walking her dog who reported the discovery to police. Investigators found the DNA of an unknown man on the ligature used to strangle Head.
Bragg was reported missing around the same time, and was located several days later at the ferry terminal in Port aux Basques. He did not become a person of interest in the crime until Head's brother saw the missing person report and told police that Bragg and Head knew each other.
Police set up surveillance on Bragg, and obtained his DNA from a discarded straw, matching it to the material found on the ligature.
They also tracked his movements through St. John's on the night of Head's murder using cellphone records, which showed Bragg's phone connected to a number of cell towers from downtown St. John's to the Mount Scio area, placing him at the scene.
Neither Bragg's nor Head's cellphones were ever recovered.
Bragg was arrested Dec. 22, 2017 and held in custody until March 2020, when a judge granted him bail until his trial. Despite initially pleading not guilty to first-degree murder, he admitted Monday to assaulting Head with a boot lace, knowing that her death was likely to ensue.
Bragg did not speak except to address Burrage and enter his plea. His motivations for the murder remain unknown to the public.
About two dozen members of Head's family gathered outside the courthouse, but politely declined to speak to media, indicating they would consider issuing a statement after processing the guilty plea. Before leaving, Head's father showed reporters a button the family had made in memory of his daughter, inscribed with her photo and the date of her death.
They will have an opportunity to make victim impact statements during the sentencing hearing.
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary released a statement recognizing the investigative work of its members Monday afternoon.
"We at the RNC continue to express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Ms. Victoria Head," the statement read.
"The guilty plea by the accused today at Supreme Court does not bring back your loved one, but it makes certain that Ms. Head's loss will see justice."