Life without parole for 10 years handed to women convicted in 2014 strangling death

Two women convicted of second-degree murder in the July 2014 strangulation death of 53-year-old Arthur Haussermann had difficult lives that involved abuse, addiction and lives as sex workers, Queen’s Bench Justice Colleen Suche said on Friday afternoon.

Raven Desjarlais, 31, and Clarissa Ponace, 33, found guilty in Arthur Haussermann’s death

Arthur Haussermann, 53, was strangled to death inside his Hargrave Street apartment in July 2014. Raven Desjarlais, 30, and Clarissa Ponace, 32, have been convicted of second-degree murder and arson. (CBC)

Two women convicted of second-degree murder have been handed the minimum sentence by a Manitoba judge.

In November a jury found Raven Desjarlais, 31, and Clarissa Ponace, 33, guilty of the murder and arson in the July 2014 strangulation death of 53-year-old Arthur Haussermann. 

In her decision Queen's Bench Justice Colleen Suche said the pair had difficult lives that involved abuse, addiction and experience as sex workers.

During sentencing, Suche said the women's case showed that the "ability to make good choices is, in fact, a privilege."

During the trial, court heard that the two women had been drinking at a bar with Haussermann before going back to his Hargrave Street apartment around 2 a.m. The three were seen on a video in the lobby of the apartment building. 

Desjarlais had told court she went to the apartment to keep drinking. Once there, Ponace and Haussermann went into a different room to have sex, court heard. 

A condom found in the apartment contained Ponace and Haussermann's DNA.

Sometime later, Desjarlais, asleep on the couch, awoke to find a half-naked Haussermann stroking her leg, court heard. 

During the trial, prosecutors alleged Desjarlais, alone or with Ponace's help, assaulted Haussermann and then strangled him with an electrical cord. After he was dead, he was stabbed twice.

Not long after firefighters were called to the building where they found up to three fire sites in the apartment and Haussermann's body. The sites were covered with bleach and dryer sheets, which court heard were used as unsuccessful accelerants for the fire.

Justice Suche called the attempt to cover up the death with the fires a "rather amateur endeavour."

It's up to you to try to heal the wounds your lives have brought you.- Justice Colleen Suche

Ponace's fingerprints were found on a bottle of Javex that was poured over Haussermann's body and bed and her blood was found on a tissue, court heard. 

In victim impact statements, Haussermann's family described him as a hardworking and generous man. They said the death has been devastating for the family. 

While second-degree murder carries a life sentence, the judge can decide when the women will be eligible for parole. 

Suche told court how both Dejarlais and Ponace were impacted by colonization and residential schools. They both had experienced abuse and sexual assault throughout their childhoods' and eventually started using drugs and alcohol to deal with the chaotic environments. 

Both women worked in the sex trade starting when they were teenagers.

Considering Gladue factors — which requires courts to take into account systemic factors which might have brought an Indigenous offender before the court — Suche sentenced the women to life with no chance of parole for 10 years, the minimum amount for a second-degree murder conviction.

Addressing both the women, Suche said now "it's up to you to try to heal the wounds your lives have brought you."

With files from Dean Pritchard