Charlotte Lafferty's murderer will serve his time in the federal prison system.

Keenan McNeely, now 21, received a life sentence in April for the brutal sexual assault and murder of Charlotte Lafferty in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., in 2014. He has since filed an appeal of the conviction and sentencing.

Lafferty was 23 at the time, and the mother of three boys.

Charlotte Lafferty

Charlotte Lafferty, a Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., mother of three, was murdered in 2014. Today the court decided her killer would serve his time away from the North in the federal prison system. (Submitted by Louisa Lafferty)

In a placement hearing at the end of August, McNeely's lawyer made the case that McNeely should serve his life sentence in a Northern facility.

In court on Tuesday, Justice Louise Charbonneau, said this was a very unusual request — she said it was the first hearing of its kind in the Northwest Territories, and she had no precedent to work with.

Normally, a life sentence would be served at a federal facility. There are no federal facilities in the territories, meaning that McNeely would need to be transferred to a southern penitentiary.

But McNeely's lawyer had argued McNeely's rehabilitation would be better served if he stayed in the North, closer to home, family and culture.

The judge did not discount the potential value of McNeely staying in the North, but she said McNeely needs the kind of intense, long-term and consistent psychological treatment only available in the federal system.

During the placement hearing in August, the court heard from the warden of the North Slave Correctional Centre in Yellowknife that the jail system in the North is designed for sentences of two years less a day, not a life sentence with a ten year minimum.

Keenan McNeely

Keenan McNeely is led out of the Yellowknife courthouse to a waiting police van after learning he will serve his life sentence in the federal prison system. (Walter Strong/CBC )

'Profoundly disturbing' circumstances

The judge said one of the principal concerns in making her placement decision was McNeely's rehabilitation and how, in the long-term, it would best protect the public when he is eventually released.

Rehabilitation is the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system, Charbonneau said.

She said her decision between placement in a Northern facility or the federal system was in part guided by the question, "which system offers the best options and prospects to address the underlying conditions of [McNeely's] behaviour?"

Charlotte Lafferty

Charlotte Lafferty's obituary notice. (Submitted by Louisa Lafferty)

Charbonneau said it was "very much in the public interest" that McNeely serve his sentence wherever it will best facilitate his rehabilitation, so that no other family or community has to again endure what Charlotte Lafferty's family endured at his hands.

The judge noted that some Northern offenders serve more than two years in the North in some cases for the sake of their rehabilitation. But in McNeely's case, placement in a system not fully prepared for his treatment would not help him — or protect the public — in the long run.

She said the circumstances of McNeely's crime were "profoundly disturbing", and he had not yet internalized his need for treatment. She was concerned McNeely might merely go through the motions of treatment without substantive rehabilitation if he were not placed in the right facility.

She said he will likely need more than one of the intense, six-month programs only available in the federal system, delivered as they are by professionals trained to work with offenders like McNeely.

Mother present for decision

McNeely sat motionless as he heard the judge hand down her decision. He sat slumped in his chair, his close shaven head lowered downward toward the table. He gestured with a slight wave to apparent supporters in the back of the courtroom as he was escorted out.

Outside the courthouse, he appeared bemused by the attention of cameras as he was led handcuffed into a waiting white police van.

Charlotte Lafferty's mother was in court to hear the decision. She sat in the front of the courtroom supported by Vivian Hansen, the Crown witness co-ordinator.

"I'm relieved that he's going down south," Louisa Lafferty said.  

Luisa Lafferty

Louisa Lafferty, left, with Vivian Hansen, Crown witness coordinator outside the Yellowknife courthouse. (Walter Strong/CBC)

"Down south he can get into programs and hopefully rehabilitate himself and realize what he did is so wrong."

"I pray for them [McNeely and his family], but I'm kind of happy it's done. It's been a long 50 months for us," she said.

She said the decision brought some peace, but nothing will bring her daughter back.

"All I have is her pictures on the wall."