Manitoba

'I long to hear her voice': Serena McKay's mother speaks at killer's sentencing hearing

It was an emotional morning as Serena McKay's mother, and other family members testified at a sentencing hearing for an 18-year-old girl who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Manitoba teen's death.

Defence contests some of 32 victim impact statements, many from people who saw beating death video online

Serena McKay's mother, Delores Daniels, at a rally in February. She testified Tuesday at a sentencing hearing for the 18-year-old who has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in connection with Serena McKay's death. (Elisha Dacey/CBC)

It was an emotional day as Serena McKay's mother and other family members testified at a sentencing hearing Tuesday for an 18-year-old girl who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Manitoba teen's death. 

"I long to hear her voice, to hold her and to tell her that I love her," Delores Daniels told the court. "My daughter did not deserve to die."

The 19-year-old's body was found outside of a home on Sagkeeng First Nation, 100 kilometres north of Winnipeg, in April 2017.

Shortly after, two videos surfaced on social media showing the teen being brutally beaten by two of her peers, aged 16 and 17 at the time. Both were charged with second-degree murder. 

The 17-year-old, who has since turned 18, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in December and will be sentenced on Thursday. She cannot be named because she was a minor at the time of McKay's death.

In January, the other teen pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Daniels said her life has forever changed since losing her only daughter, who she described as her best friend. She told court she has been struggling with depression and has difficulty sleeping, and often finds herself driving to her daughter's grave to sit and grieve.

She told court that in the days following McKay's death she saw the video circulating online and clicked on it.

"All I saw was my baby's swollen face," she said, adding she immediately turned it off and refused to watch further.

32 impact statements

Daniels said she has received several emails from people who said they suffered post-traumatic effects from watching the video of her daughter's attack.

Court also heard victim impact statements from McKay's father, aunt and grandmother, who described her as an enthusiastic student and a beautiful young woman who had a bright future ahead of her. 

In total, the Crown submitted 32 victim impact statements from family members, friends and even strangers — including people from New York and Texas — who wrote that they felt affected by the tragedy and videos of the beating. 

Recent changes to Canada's Victims Bill of Rights allow anyone who felt affected by a crime to submit a victim impact statement.

The teen's defence lawyer, Greg Brodsky, took issue with some of the statements submitted in court and argued they did not meet the definition of a "victim," or someone who endured emotional harm. 

The judge will rule on Thursday which statements he will consider admissible.

Defence files recommendations

Brodsky told court his client participated in the assault but she was not responsible for McKay's death. 

"Beating did not cause the death. She died of hypothermia," Brodsky said, adding McKay was intoxicated and that may have prevented her from seeking protection from the cold.

Brodsky recommended his client serve one year in custody and the balance of the sentence in the community under supervision. He painted a picture of his client as a teen who had a difficult life and is not a risk to reoffend.  

"While she's been in custody she's listed as a model prisoner — a role model," he said. 

Brodsky said the girl was deeply affected by the overdose death of her father in 2014 and has struggled with self-harm, substance abuse and was also a victim of bullying and sexual assault. 

At the age of 16 she became pregnant and had to drop out of school to raise her child, Brodsky said.

Serena McKay, 19, was murdered in Sagkeeng First Nation in April 2017. Her mother said she lost her best friend when McKay died. (Submitted by family)

The 18-year-old killer sat shackled in the prisoner's box in a tan striped sweater and black pants, and could be seen wiping tears from her eyes throughout the morning.

She previously admitted to recording the video of the attack, and said that she told her boyfriend that night, "I think she's going to die."

In her statement to court, the teen said she still has nightmares from the incident. 

"There are no words to describe how sorry I am. This affects a lot of people. Delores [Daniels], I broke your heart. … I can't imagine how much pain you are in and how much pain you have to go through," she said. 

The Crown is seeking a maximum youth sentence of seven years, less the 1.5 years the teen has already served in custody.

[She] may have expressed remorse in her pre-sentence report but she did not express remorse that night. She recorded the video on her phone — she pressed record, she shared it.- Crown attorney Jennifer Comack

"Serena's death has been shared across this country and beyond," attorney Jennifer Comack said. "The loss of this young woman cuts very deep in the lives of the people she left behind."

She recommended a maximum term of four years in custody and 1.5 years in a supervised community setting.

"Serena McKay is dead because of [the two accused]," she said.

"[The 18-year-old] may have expressed remorse in her pre-sentence report but she did not express remorse that night. She recorded the video on her phone — she pressed record, she shared it … It's been shared so many times, the RCMP cannot keep it off the internet."

The Crown played both videos in court on Tuesday afternoon. The teen sat with her hands over her ears and her head down, sobbing in the prisoner's box as the video played.

In McKay's father's victim impact statement, he told the court he forgives the teens involved and prays for them.

But Daniels said she hopes justice is served because her daughter will never have a second chance at life.

The judge is expected to deliver a sentence on Thursday.

About the Author

Jill Coubrough

Reporter, CBC News

Jill Coubrough is a video journalist with CBC News based in Winnipeg. Before joining CBC Manitoba, she worked as a reporter for CBC News in Halifax and an associate producer for CBC's documentary series Land and Sea. She holds a degree in political studies from the University of Manitoba and a degree in journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax. Email: jillian.coubrough@cbc.ca.