Edmonton

Prostitute killer to serve 17 years in prison before parole

Convicted killer Thomas Svekla will spend 17 years behind bars before being eligible for parole, an Edmonton judge ruled Monday.

Convicted killer Thomas Svekla will spend 17 years behind bars before being eligible for parole, an Edmonton judge ruled Monday.

Thomas Svekla, seen here in a court sketch, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Theresa Innes, 36, whose body was found in a hockey bag in a Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., home in May 2006. ((CBC))

Justice Sterling Sanderman of the Court of Queen's Bench handed down the sentence at the end of a day-long hearing, which concluded Svekla's four-month trial.

In early June, the 40-year-old auto mechanic was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of Theresa Innes, 36, whose body was found in a hockey bag in a home northeast of Edmonton in May 2006. Svekla was also found guilty of committing an indignity to a dead body.

He was acquitted of charges that he killed another prostitute, Rachel Quinney, 19. Her body was found in a wooded area east of Edmonton in June 2004.

The judge said the way Svekla killed Innes, stored her body in a freezer in High Level, Alta., then transported it five months later to the Edmonton area was "callous, cruel and truly reprehensible." 

Svekla's conviction carries a mandatory life sentence, with a minimum of 10 years in prison before he can be eligible for parole.

The Crown argued Svekla should serve the maximum allowed under law — 25 years — pointing to his extensive history of violent behaviour towards women and his treatment of Innes's body.

Defence lawyer Robert Shaigec admitted Svekla has shown little remorse for his crimes and asked that his client be allowed to apply for parole after 15 years. 

Outside court, the Innes family expressed satisfaction with the sentence. They also thanked Crown prosecutor Ashley Finlayson for his dedication to the case.

But it will never take the place of the "hole in her heart," said Beverly Innes, Theresa's mother.

Victim's son calls mom 'kind and caring' person

Earlier in the day the court heard an emotional statement from Innes's son, Mike, who called his mother a "kind and caring person" who had her "up and downs."

A judge has sentenced Thomas Svekla to serve at least 17 years in prison for killing Theresa Innes, 36, seen here in a police mug shot. ((RCMP))

"She never missed calling every weekend, on birthdays and Christmas. I remember her laughs and her jokes," Mike Innes told the court.

Svekla's actions have changed all that, he said, his eyes welling up with tears.

"She was not there to see me graduate, she won't be there to see me get married.… Those dreams were taken from me."

Svekla is also due to go on trial in September on charges of sexual assault and uttering threats in connection with an attack on a woman in High Level, Alta., in the summer of 2005.

The woman, who can't be identified, testified at Svekla's trial in Edmonton. She told the court Svekla attacked her and threatened to kill her after they shared a six-pack of beer and went back to his apartment.

Svekla is the first person charged by Project Kare, a joint Edmonton city police and RCMP task force that is investigating the deaths and disappearances of more than 20 women since 1983, all of them prostitutes or others in what police call "high-risk lifestyles."