Schuyler Van Wissen has been sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 25 years, after a jury in Winnipeg found him guilty of first-degree murder in the 2011 death of Gina Swanson.
The 12-person jury reached their decision late Wednesday afternoon, about five hours after they began deliberating.
Van Wissen was sentenced shortly after the verdict was handed down. A first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence with no eligibility of parole for at least 25 years.
The Crown alleged Swanson, 33, was stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted by Van Wissen inside her Fort Garry-area home on the morning of May 14, 2011.
Swanson's family members and friends wore red, yellow and orange pins — her favourite colours — as her mother read a victim impact statement in court. They applauded when the sentencing hearing ended.
"Friends, family and myself are all relieved, my only thought ... is short of the death penalty, that justice was served," said Swanson's sister Kirstin Swanson.
In her victim impact statement, Swanson's mother Marie Swanson, said she feels anguish over her grandchild growing up without her mother. Swanson was a single mother to Téah, now 11 years old.
"A mother, daughter and sister has still been lost to us forever while the perpetrator of this heinous crime still lives to see another day," her statement read.
Kirstin Swanson, said she has been left with "pain and an empty heart" since her sister was murdered.
"A big sister's duty is to protect their little sister. It infuriates me that I couldn't protect her that night."
Van Wissen, 30, had pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. His trial began March 7.
Court heard that Swanson's father found her bound with a bag over her head on her living room floor. He had gone to check on her after her boss called concerned that she hadn't shown up for work.
Van Wissen's lawyer, Martin Glazer, argued that Swanson was not sexually assaulted and suggested it's possible she may have been killed by drug dealers.
Glazer also alleged it would have been impossible for Van Wissen to be at Swanson's home that morning because he would not have had enough time to get there from his then-girlfriend's home by transit bus.
In his final instructions to jurors on Wednesday morning, Justice Richard Saull said they must find Van Wissen guilty of first-degree murder if they believed beyond a reasonable doubt that Swanson was sexually assaulted and killed at around the same time.
However, if jurors believed Swanson was not sexually assaulted, they must find him not guilty of first-degree murder, but guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter, the judge said at the time. They could have also found the accused not guilty of any crime.
Glazer told CBC he has been instructed to appeal Wednesday's first-degree murder conviction.
Read our full coverage from the trial:
- Gina Swanson's family speaks after closing arguments in murder trial
- Murder trial wraps with defence questioning transit over schedules
- Former girlfriend of man charged with killing Gina Swanson testifies
- Friend testifies on slain single mother Gina Swanson's last night alive
- Murder trial for Gina Swanson slaying continues in Winnipeg
- Disturbing details emerge on 1st day of trial for Gina Swanson slaying