Woman convicted in killing of Serena McKay denied early release to go to university

A young woman serving time for second-degree murder has been denied a request to end her incarceration so she can return to her First Nation community and take steps to enrol at the University of Manitoba.

'She still does not appreciate the significance of her consequences'

A family member holds a framed image of Serena McKay. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A young woman serving time for second-degree murder has been denied a request to end her incarceration so that she can return to her First Nation community and take steps to enrol at the University of Manitoba.

The 20-year-old woman, who cannot be named because she was a youth at the time of the crime, was one of two teens convicted in the death of Serena McKay in April 2017.

McKay, a 19-year-old high school student, was beaten and left outside to die by two schoolmates on Sagkeeng First Nation. Graphic videos of the attack were later shared on social media.

A pathologist testified during the trial of the accused girls that McKay likely died of hypothermia, unable to seek protection from the cold because of her injuries and the amount of alcohol in her system.

The woman who requested early release was sentenced in June 2018 to secure custody for 40 months to be followed by conditional supervision for another 23½ months.

Serena McKay's mother embraces a family member outside the courthouse during the sentencing hearing for the now-20-year-old woman convicted in the killing. (Jill Coubrough/CBC)

Provincial court Judge Rocky Pollack, who originally sentenced her, also rejected the early release request. In his written decision from Aug. 26, Pollack said the woman "still does not appreciate the significance of her consequences."

He said she has taken steps to remove negative influences in her life, by ending a toxic relationship with the father of her four-year-old son, and with a friend who had a tangential role in the events leading to McKay's death.

The woman also has been involved in an ongoing program offering support to Indigenous offenders, has completed high school while in jail, was described as a role model at the Manitoba Youth Centre and now has a job in the laundry at the Women's Correctional Centre, an adult facility in Headingley. She was moved there in November.

The request for early release said the 20-year-old would have strong family support from her mother and grandmother, who were in court for all of the proceedings and with whom she has had visits.

But her behaviour has not been entirely laudable, Pollack said.

She forged the signature of a staff member at the youth centre to get a letter released in the mail, was found to be tattooing herself, was involved with a group refusing to comply with lockup orders, and was disciplined for not taking medication.

A progress report from a probation officer said the woman is still easily misled by others, while a review by a traditional knowledge keeper at the Women's Correctional Centre said the woman "struggles with self-acceptance" and "will give up her own values to gain acceptance from others."

Pollack also referred to a handwritten document by the woman, called "My Life Story." In it, she wrote about the night of the murder:

"A couple drinks turned into a full weekend of binge drinking. Waking up a Monday, and finding out you were involved in a murder was so shocking. I couldn't remember much of that weekend but watching a video a friend showed me was brutal. I sat back and denied it all because I'm not a violent person."

Pollack said that is not the first time he has read words from her pen that try to put distance between her and the murder. Last year she wrote that "the act I have taken part in was not supposed to end the way that it did."

"I consider this to be evidence that she still does not appreciate the significance of her consequences," Pollack wrote in his decision.

"She is serving the maximum [youth] sentence for taking a life. It is to be hoped that she continues working on this."

Pollack acknowledged there have been changes in her life but "they are not changes, in my opinion, that are material to what led to second-degree murder."


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.