Andrea Giesbrecht gets 8½ years for concealing remains of 6 infants

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, she will spend another seven years and 10 months in prison.

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. (CBC)

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.

Giesbrecht showed little emotion in court as the judge read his decision. 

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.

"She bagged each of the bodies, sealed them or encased them in cement or powder, all in an effort to contain the smell of human decomposition and decay," said Thompson.

He pointed to Section 243 of the Criminal Code, explaining the law against disposing of infant remains is to ensure that newborn deaths can be investigated. By concealing the bodies, Thompson said Giesbrecht thwarted police's ability to determine whether their 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 44:32

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.

Sentencing decision sends message

When delivering Giesbrecht's sentence, Thompson said denunciation and personal deterrence took paramount importance. 

"These were newly delivered infants, our most vulnerable," he said.

Thompson acknowledged the existence of mitigating factors, including a pre-sentence report that assessed Giesbrecht as a low risk to reoffend, with a good record of employment, and relationships 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.

He also said Giesbrecht has shown a lack of remorse for the offences. 

The judge also dismissed the possibility of a non-custodial sentence, noting "Giesbrecht has a well-documented history of deceiving others." Thompson singled out Giesbrecht's history of gambling addiction, two convictions of fraud over $5,000, and the deceit confirmed by the convictions for concealing the remains. 

"This required a significant degree of deliberation. Concealing the pregnancies, renting a storage locker, placing each of the bodies there. She has not demonstrated any remorse," Thompson said.

When looking for similar cases on which to base a sentence, Thompson said most involved young women without permanent partners, often experiencing pregnancy for the first time, and who disposed of only one child. Some of these cases involved women diagnosed with a mental health issues.

"Andrea Giesbrecht is not that person. She is an outlier; a very different member of a particular group of women who concealed the bodies of children they delivered," Thompson said.

Giesbrecht reported she does not have a history of mental illness and has never been diagnosed with any psychiatric disorders. 

"By disposing of six bodies Giesbrecht is unprecedented as an offender in the context of section 243 of the Criminal Code of Canada."

Giesbrecht's lawyer, Greg Brodsky, said he was surprised at the severity of the sentence and said his client didn't kill anyone.

"There were no marks, as you know, on the fetuses or products of conception to show that she self-induced an abortion and killed anybody. She can't be sentenced as if she did," he said.

He said he would advise Giesbrecht to appeal the sentence.

Request to dismiss case

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.

He didn't elaborate on the case or its relevance to 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.

Greg Brodsky, Giesbrecht's lawyer, tried to argue his client's case took too long to conclude and should be thrown out. The judge disagreed. (CBC)

Brodsky has previously said he also believes the courts did not set aside enough time to complete the trial.

"It was set down, then it was set down again, and it was set down again. They kept not adequately determining how much time is necessary," he said.​

Complex evidence presented

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.