It should have been Laura Babcock's 29th birthday. Instead, friends and family of the Toronto woman gathered in court today for the sentencing hearing of her killers, twice-convicted murderers Dellen Millard and Mark Smich.
The hearing in Ontario Superior Court in Toronto followed a seven-week trial, in which the jury found Millard, 32, of Toronto and Smich, 30, of Oakville, Ont., killed the 23-year-old woman in July 2012 and burned her body in an animal incinerator.
Both men were found guilty of first-degree murder at the end of last year.
"These two were selfish predators who delighted in murdering innocent people," Crown Jill Cameron said in court.
'Justice for Laura demands a separate penalty for her murder. Otherwise they may as well have gotten away with it.' -Jill Cameron, Crown attorney
The day began with a victim impact statement from Babcock's family that Cameron read aloud, displaying the heartbreak and anguish the family is dealing with.
"To have her murdered in such a cold, calculated way is beyond rational thought," the family said in the statement.
Babcock's parents, Clayton and Linda, say they now endure countless sleepless nights, and are taking medication for depression.
"We long to see Laura smile and hear her voice," they wrote.
"We always taught our children not to use the word hate. We felt the emotion was too horrible and destructive, but now, unfortunately, you men have made us hate."
A question of concurrent or consecutive sentences
Millard and Smich's guilty convictions come with an automatic sentence of life imprisonment without a chance of parole for 25 years. Justice Michael Code's decision after the sentencing hearing will determine whether they'll get concurrent or consecutive life sentences.
Millard and Smich are already serving life sentences for killing and burning the body of Tim Bosma of Ancaster, Ont., in 2013 — something that was never brought up in court during the Babcock trial.
A large contingent of Bosma's family, including his widow, Sharlene, and his parents Hank and Mary, were in court today in a show of solidarity with the Babcock family. Bosma's spectre loomed large throughout today's proceedings, as pictures of him were flashed on courtroom screens, next to photos of Babcock.
Neither Millard nor Smich looked over at them.
"If Tim Bosma had not been cruelly and senselessly murdered, we'd probably still be agonizing over what happened to Laura," her parents wrote in their victim impact statement.
Law 'demands' consecutive sentences, Crown says
If sentenced concurrently, Millard and Smich would serve their terms from both the Bosma and Babcock convictions at the same time. If they are sentenced consecutively, both men would have to finish serving their sentence for Bosma's death before they start serving time for Babcock's.
Cameron said in court that the law "demands" consecutive sentences. "Justice for Laura demands a separate penalty for her murder. Otherwise they may as well have gotten away with it," she said.
All 12 jurors in the Babcock trial recommended consecutive sentences for Millard, while only five recommended that Smich receive the maximum period before parole eligibility — the other seven made no recommendation.
Code told jurors at the end of the trial that the consecutive sentencing provision is new to the Criminal Code, and said the final decision on sentencing rests with him, but he will consider their recommendations.
The 2011 law enacted as part of then prime minister Stephen Harper's so-called tough-on-crime agenda allows judges to deliver consecutive life sentences with concurrent terms of parole ineligibility for people convicted of more than one murder.
The Crown presented case law Monday from 13 prior cases in which a judge had to decide between consecutive and concurrent sentences. In nine of those, consecutive sentences were imposed. Of the four where consecutive sentences were not imposed, three came with guilty pleas.
Millard, who represented himself during the trial, retained lawyer Ravin Pillay for the sentencing hearing. Pillay also represented Millard during the Bosma murder trial.
In his submissions, Pillay argued against consecutive sentences, saying that an offender's hope of release is an incentive for rehabilitation.
"If one is sentenced to 50 years ... that sentence effectively casts away the prospect of rehabilitation," Pillay said. "There must be an incentive, and there should be an incentive, to the offender before you, to repair, to correct, to rehabilitate.
"Does one turn off that light at the end of the tunnel? Or does one keep that light on?"
Code did not appear to buy that argument.
"[Millard] has committed two extremely serious murders, one right after the other, in the context of some sort of criminal conspiracy. He looks profoundly dangerous," Code said.
Smich's lawyer once again points finger at Millard
As he's done throughout both trials, Smich's lawyer, Thomas Dungey, painted Millard as a manipulator who controlled his client.
Dungey also described his client's early years with an abusive father who used to beat his mother, and once threw her down the stairs when she was pregnant with Smich.
"Smich would not be here if he had not met Mr. Millard," Dungey said, arguing that his client did not deserve consecutive life sentences.
"Mr. Smich may not be as horrible as Mr. Millard. He may not be," Cameron responded. "But he has still done a horrible thing. He may have had a tougher life than Mr. Millard, but so have a lot of people, and they do not go out and murder people."
Code told the court that he is setting aside a sentencing date for Monday, Feb. 26 at 2:30 p.m.
In addition to these two lengthy murder trials that ended with convictions, Millard has also been charged in the 2012 death of his father, Wayne Millard, which was originally ruled a suicide. The first-degree murder trial is slated to start on April 3.
For complete coverage, read a recap of CBC's live blog coverage from inside the courtroom. On mobile and can't see the blog? Follow it here.