SURREY — The young man who murdered North Delta teenager Laura Szendrei in September 2010 has been sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility to apply for parole for seven years.
The clock started ticking on his sentence the day he was arrested in February 2011. The 21-year-old man hung his head low while cheers and sobs filled the packed courtroom in Surrey Friday.
"We're happier," Rachael Szendrei, Laura's mom, said as she left the courthouse. "It's unfortunate my daughter got sacrificed but it's a good thing that the justice system came through for us, and that everybody in Delta will be a lot safer."
"I miss Laura so much," she said.
Over the past few months lawyers have been arguing whether the killer, who was just shy of his 18th birthday when he murdered the 15-year-old girl, should be sentenced as an adult or a youth. If he were sentenced as a youth, he would have received a maximum seven years under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, with four of those years to be served in prison and the remainder in the community, under supervision.
Justice Robin Baird noted the killer "was on the very threshold of adulthood" when he committed his "ruinously violent" offence, "only days short of the arbitrary line."
A publication ban on the killer's name will remain in effect until at least late January when Baird will hear arguments concerning its merits.
The young man hung his head and women in the gallery cried as Baird described the girl's "cruel death."
It had been a warm, sunny day, shortly before 1:30 p.m., when Szendrei received a text message to join some of her friends at Mackie Park who were planning to smoke a joint.
Meanwhile, the killer was hiding in the wooded park, laying in wait to rape the first woman he saw.
Baird noted he and Szendrei were "total strangers.
"He had no particular victim in mind," Baird said. "He planned to rape the first woman who came along."
The young man lured the girl, calling out to her that his bicycle chain had come off and that he needed her help.
As she was helping him, he tried to force some zap straps over her head. She screamed, and he hit her over the head with a metal pipe. She ran, and he hit her again, and then again.
"He tracked her down mercilessly," Baird said. "The violence was intentional and extreme."
When people heard the ruckus and rushed in to see what was going on, the killer pretended to be a bystander and suggested that everyone split up to seek help. He then went back to the scene of the crime, retrieved his metal pipe, rode his bike home, vomited, washed up and then settled down to play video games.
Meanwhile, Szendrei continued to fight for her life until she died at 4:02 a.m. the next morning, at Royal Columbian Hospital, from massive brain injuries.
Baird said the killer seemed "remarkably unaffected" by his crimes.
In the months prior to Szendrei's murder, the young man had attacked three other women near Burn's Bog, hitting the third victim over her head with a piece of wood. The judge found his claim that he planned to knock out his victims, to bring on amnesia, to be "patent nonsense."
Two days after killing Szendrei, the young man attended a birthday party and described his time there as being "fun and awesome."
He then went on a trip, which he described as "great fun." He went fishing with his uncle, wearing the same clothing he wore when he attacked Szendrei, with the intention to get fish blood on them to disguise what he'd done and use it as an excuse to discard them.
The young man then returned to Delta and carried on his life as if nothing had happened, Baird said. Three months after the killing, Baird added, the young man seemed to have completely put the murder past him."
Braid was struck by the "prosaic ordinariness" of the killer's background, noting that he had a close and loving family and had enjoyed a normal childhood.
Outside the courthouse Mike Szendrei, the victim's dad, spoke briefly with reporters.
"Not much to say, the judge looks like he's doing the right thing here," he said.
"The judge did the right thing. The rest of you parents out there maybe don't have to be scared this guy's crawling around, that's all."
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