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Jaylene Sanderson-Redhead died June 29, 2009. Doctors said they found signs she had suffered long-term abuse.

A woman who, as a child, witnessed her mother kill her father is now preparing to go to prison for killing her young daughter.

The chilling tale of multi-generational family violence is playing out in a Winnipeg courtroom, and is likely to raise more questions about Manitoba's child welfare system.

Nicole Redhead, now 29, had worked as a prostitute and was addicted to crack cocaine.

In 2009, she regained custody of her toddler from CFS as she entered an aboriginal women's shelter that offers parenting courses and other supports.

But she became violent with the young girl, and one night in June, she held her hand over the girl's mouth until she stopped breathing, court was told.

She then placed the child back in her crib and put a blanket over her. She did not tell anyone about what happened except her boyfriend — via telephone, because he was in jail. The boyfriend called the shelter and told them what happened.

'Gratuitous violence'

Autopsies would later reveal dozens of bruises on the girl's body and bites on her legs. Some bruises were old, some were still forming when she died.

It was "gratuitous violence", according to Crown attorney Colleen McDuff, who asked the court Monday for a 12-year sentence.

"There is a degree of anger, malevolence, that is difficult to explain," McDuff said.

'Every time I did ask the staff for help, there was no one there to help me.'—Nicole Redhead

Redhead pleaded guilty last year to manslaughter but has failed to show any remorse, McDuff said.

The woman addressed the court briefly Monday. She did not apologize for the death, but instead criticized the support services offered at the shelter.

"Every time I did ask the staff for help, there was no one there to help me," Redhead said in a soft voice.

Defence lawyer Steven Brennan said the woman is unable to show remorse because she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after a horrific childhood and a series of abusive adult relationships.

At the age of nine, she saw her mother kill her father, Brennan said.

"She remembers seeing a lot of blood," he told the court.

She was put into foster care and was sexually abused at age 11, he said. Later, she turned to prostitution to make money and became addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine. The trauma has left her unable to show emotion, Brennan said, even when she feels deeply remorseful.

"This is a horrible background. Simply horrific circumstances," he said.

Defence asks for six years

Brennan asked for a sentence of five to six years, minus double credit for the time she has spent in custody since her arrest.

Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of Court of Queen's Bench has reserved decision on her sentence until mid-April.

He frequently challenged the defence's assertion that the woman deserved sympathy, and pointed to evidence that showed the woman did not participate in support programs at the shelter.

"She suffered more than most human beings should ever have to contemplate ... but at a certain point, she was given advantages," Joyal said.

"She declined the very support offered to her."

Joyal also pointed to Child and Family Services' decision to give the woman back her child "at a time when she probably ought not to have had any child near her."