'I live in such a darkness,' Cooper Nemeth's mom tells court before killer sentenced

A Manitoba judge has sentenced Nicholas Bell-Wright to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 16 years for the second-degree murder of Cooper Nemeth, a popular Winnipeg teen and hockey player.

Nicholas Bell-Wright gets life in prison, no chance of parole for 16 years

Cooper Nemeth's mother, Gaylene Nemeth, said she got the sentence she was hoping for but it doesn't bring her son back. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

A Manitoba judge has sentenced Nicholas Bell-Wright to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 16 years for the second-degree murder of Cooper Nemeth, a popular Winnipeg teen and hockey player.

Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Glenn Joyal called the 2016 killing a crime of "callous brutality" during the sentencing on Wednesday.

He described the week-long search for Nemeth's body, following his disappearance after a Valentine's Day house party, as "hellish" for the whole community.

"We got what we asked for but it doesn't bring my son back," Gaylene Nemeth said outside of the courthouse after the sentencing.

Nemeth's father, Brent Nemeth, said he did not feel closure. 

"To me it would never be enough," he said. 

Family and friends of Winnipeg high schooler Cooper Nemeth told the Court of Queen's Bench on Wednesday how his murder in 2016 impacted their lives. (Supplied)

Prior to sentencing, Bell-Wright, 24, told court he was sorry and regrets Nemeth's death every day.

"I know what happened wasn't right. I'm very sorry for what happened… I can't imagine how much pain I've caused," he said.

Gaylene Nemeth left court before Bell-Wright spoke.

Defence lawyer Barry Sinder said his client had read all 96 of the victim impact statements presented to the court — an unusually high number — and understood how Nemeth's death affected so many people.

He said his client has shown remorse and "there is chance for rehabilitation."

The minimum sentence for second-degree murder is life with no chance of parole for 10 years. 

After the sentencing, Bell-Wright was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, while Nemeth's friends and family hugged and cried in the hallway.

Around 100 people filled the courtroom seats, many wearing white T-shirts bearing Nemeth's photo and "RIP Cip" — Nemeth's nickname — or "Justice 4 Cip."

The hearing was initially delayed due to the large number of victim impact statements. 

'He stole everything'

Prior to sentencing, Gaylene Nemeth told Bell-Wright he had given Cooper a death sentence, her family a life sentence, and had critically injured the community. 

"He stole everything from Cooper and from us," she said in court. 

Everyday occurrences now trigger pain, she said. She broke down in tears describing how every song and television show, and watching sports, reminds her of her son.

"I live in such a darkness that I can't feel sunlight anymore," she said. 

She spoke about how she struggles to sleep and sometimes wakes up gasping for air. 

"I spend the rest of the night wondering if my son was gasping for air," when he died, she said. 

Her statement was one of 15 read during the hearing. The remaining statements were submitted to the court in a large binder .

Cooper Nemeth's family and friends share their victim impact statements

6 years ago
Duration 1:50
The case was unprecedented in how many victim impact statements were filed by family and friends. Some of those friends and family agreed to share their statements with CBC News.

Cooper's disappearance prompted a citywide search that involved friends, teammates and hundreds of others.

According to an agreed statement of facts read in court, Cooper met Bell-Wright outside the party. Bell-Wright, who said he could help set up a drug deal, later shot him twice in the head.

His body was found six days later in a garbage can. 

Brent Nemeth looked at Bell-Wright and told him he had tossed his son "in a garbage can like a piece of trash."

"My first-born. My son. Murdered at age 17," he said.

"Parents should never outlive their children."

Cooper Nemeth's father, Brent Nemeth, says he doesn't think he will ever get closure. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Court heard that Cooper Nemeth was kind, goofy and a protector for his younger sister. 

Cooper Nemeth's grandmothers, aunt and friends walked through the silent courtroom to the witness box to read their victim impact statements, one after another, for hours. 

His friends spoke about how their high school graduation was sombre and filled with sadness without Cooper around to help them celebrate. Some spoke about how they felt guilt, were depressed and struggled with school work after his murder.

Nemeth's good friend Kelsey Schneider said he became "completely numb inside" after the murder. 

He looked at Bell-Wright and addressed him directly, saying "when I think about Cooper's death I think about him and how he was always relied on to bring joy into the room and what kind of man he was."

"I never think of you... I want everyone to forget you."

Kelsey Schneider says he thought reading the victim impact statement would help bring closure but he still is devastated about his good friend's murder. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

After the sentencing, Schneider said he thought it would bring more closure but he still feels the hurt and loss of his friend's death deeply.

"I feel now that he's put away maybe there's a little bit more comfort in that, but other than that it still feels the same way," he said. 

Nemeth's aunt Laresa Sayles told court that "Cooper was a gift to me."

"He taught me how to be cool." 

She said she's been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and the grief of the death has had a large and lasting impact on the entire family. 

She looked to Joyal and pleaded with him to put "this monster behind bars for as long as possible."

'So important to be heard'

Joyal pointed to the large number of victim impact statements during his sentencing, saying they described the effect of the murder on the family, friends and larger community. 

He added that his role was to follow "dispassionate objectivity" in sentencing. 

The judge initially asked the Crown if it could limit the number of statements but prosecutors pointed to the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, which came into force in 2015 and expanded the definition of victim. 

Loved ones wore white T-shirts bearing Nemeth's photo and the slogans including 'RIP Cip' — Nemeth's nickname. (Kelly Malone/CBC)

Joyal also said the case should not set a precedent for how many victim impact statements are expected in court in the future. 

Karen Wiebe, executive director of the Manitoba Organization for Victim Assistance, said it doesn't matter how many statements are submitted, they should all be acknowledged.

She was in the courtroom during the victim impact statements and said it is important for closure. But she said it's also important that Bell-Wright heard about the pain that he caused.

"It's very, very hard. It's so necessary for this person that has done this unimaginable act to have to listen to this. To listen, to see, to hear, to see the pain on their faces," Wiebe said. 

"The statements that we heard today were so important to be heard. They are the only chance these people have to address this individual."

With files from Karen Pauls and Aidan Geary