Judge says police were unable to determine whether deaths occurred before or after birth
Andrea Giesbrecht has been sentenced to 8½ years in prison for concealing the remains of six infants in a storage locker in Winnipeg.
With time already served factored in, Giesbrecht will spend another seven years and 10 months in prison.
"Giesbrecht's moral culpability is extremely high," Judge Murray Thompson said at Friday's sentencing hearing.
The 43-year-old was convicted in February of hiding the bodies of six infants in a U-Haul storage locker she rented. The remains were found Oct. 20, 2014, by employees at the facility after the woman failed to pay her bill.
By concealing the bodies, Thompson said Giesbrecht thwarted the ability of police to determine whether their deaths occurred before or after birth.
Thompson said each of the six infants represented six separate offences and Giesbrecht's moral culpability increased after the first offence. He sentenced her to six months for the first infant, one year for the second, and two years for each of the four other infants found, for a total of 9½ years.
A sentence of that length would be "crushing" to Giesbrecht, Thompson said. He therefore reduced the sentence by one year, minus time served.
Sentencing arguments were presented earlier this month. The Crown sought an 11-year sentence for Giesbrecht, while Brodsky requested she be spared any further jail time beyond the 168 days spent on remand between the day she was arrested and being granted bail.
When delivering Giesbrecht's sentence, Thompson said denunciation and personal deterrence took paramount importance.
Thompson acknowledged the existence of mitigating factors, including a pre-sentence report that assessed Giesbrecht as a low risk to re-offend, a good record of employment, and her relationship with her two surviving children. These were outweighed by aggravating factors, including that these were repeated offences committed over a long period of time, and that Giesbrecht didn't seek help at any time during or after her pregnancies.
The judge also dismissed the possibility of a non-custodial sentence, noting Giesbrecht has a history of deceiving others, including convictions for fraud.
Giesbrecht's lawyer, Greg Brodsky, said he was surprised at the severity of the sentence and said his client didn't kill anyone. He said he would advise Giesbrecht to appeal the sentence.
The sentencing happened after the judge rejected a motion to dismiss the case due to the length of time it took to conclude.
On Wednesday, Brodsky filed a delay motion to have the case thrown out because it has taken 33 months to work its way through the courts, beyond the 18-month time frame set out by the Supreme Court of Canada last summer.
Counsel has a responsibility to file in timely way and there are no emergent reasons why a motion was filed at the last possible moment, Thompson said.
"If this motion were of such importance to the defence, it would not have been withheld," he said.
All of these actions speak to the lack of seriousness with which the defence has presented this motion, Thompson said.
"Raising the spectre of a motion for unreasonable delay for the first time on Friday at 3:30 p.m. when a conviction was entered months ago, a sentencing date has been set for months and distracting a judge writing an important and detailed decision is unacceptable," he said.
Thompson asked Brodsky why he waited five months after the conviction to bring the motion. Brodsky replied by saying he didn't know he was going to do it until the Supreme Court ruled on another case recently — one that he believes has implications for Giesbrecht.
As for delays up to this point, Brodsky blamed the Crown for laying and staying several charges before the trial began, which caused setbacks for setting court dates.
Brodsky has previously said he also believes the courts did not set aside enough time to complete the trial.
There's little question the case against Giesbrecht was complex, which the Crown has said contributed to the length of the case. Technical medical expert opinion evidence and DNA science featured prominently.
Giesbrecht was arrested the same month the infant remains were found. Due to the decomposition of the remains, no cause of death could be determined.
Medical experts testified the infants were Giesbrecht's, were at or near full term and were likely to have been born alive.
Read Judge Murray Thompson's decisions on sentencing and the unreasonable delay motion below.