Toronto

Unusual judicial decision reveals evidence in Rengel case

The evidence behind allegations in the slaying of Toronto teen Stefanie Rengel, demands that the 16-year-old accused be denied bail, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Accused girl's lawyer wanted reasons for bail ruling made public

The evidence behind allegations that a straight-A student plotted the "heinous" New Year's Day slaying of Toronto teen Stefanie Rengel out of "senseless jealousy" demands that the 16-year-old accused be denied bail, a judge ruled Wednesday.

In an extraordinary move that came at the request of her lawyer, Ontario Superior Court Justice David McCombs stunned the courtroom as he made public his reasons for refusing to release the girl into the pre-trial custody of her family.

"It is apparent that the motive for this murder was senseless jealousy on the part of [the accused girl,]" McCombs wrote in his eight-page ruling.

"It engendered a hatred so vile that she wanted the object of her jealousy, an innocent girl, dead. And she used [her co-accused] as an instrument of her hatred."

Rengel was found bleeding profusely on a sidewalk near her family's home on New Year's Day — the result of several stab wounds to the abdomen suffered during an attack prosecutors allege was carried out by the teen girl's co-accused, an 18-year-old boy.

The accused and the boy, who was 17 at the time of the murder, are each facing a charge of first-degree murder. They cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

McCombs's reasons for his ruling would normally be banned from publication as a matter of course, but the accused's lawyer, Marshall Sack, said he wanted the reasons made public.

McCombs cautioned that "at this stage, the evidence is before me in the form of allegations only, and it is of course ultimately for the trier of fact to determine where the truth lies."

Still, he wrote that "it is apparent that the prosecution has strong evidence that Stefanie Rengel was an innocent victim who had done nothing to provoke the attack that led to her death."

"She was just 14 years old; she was lured from her home, stabbed six times and left to die in the snow," he said.

"This was a particularly heinous crime. It has shocked the conscience of right-thinking people across the country."

Accused in tears

The accused's 10-year-old brother erupted into tears when the ruling was delivered and was comforted by family members. She herself also broke down in tears after the verdict came down, accepting a tissue from a nearby court officer.

"I see [the accused] is in some distress — I'm not surprised," said McCombs, who noted in his decision that the Grade 10 student has maintained a 90 per cent average while in high school.

She was ordered back to the Syl Apps Youth and Secure Treatment Centre in Oakville, Ont., which the judge noted could not provide the level of schooling needed for someone with straight-A grades.

Outside court, Sack made it clear he disagreed with McCombs's decision.

"His Honour concluded that this is one of those rare cases [in which releasing] my client would seriously erode the public's confidence in the administration of justice," he said.

"His Honour's conclusion was that based on what he has so far … it's a strong case. In my view, that should be insufficient to detain someone."

If convicted and sentenced as adults, the mandatory sentence is life in prison without eligibility for parole for 10 years. If sentenced as youths, the maximum sentence is six years behind bars, followed by four years probation.

Decision could help accused boy: lawyer

Elana Levy, the lawyer for the 18-year-old, said the decision to make public the reasons for denying the girl bail "might help, actually, my client."

The male suspect will seek bail, but a court date hasn't yet been set, added Levy.

In the decision, McCombs states that the Crown alleges the boy lured Rengel from her home with a telephone call and then stabbed her six times.

The Crown also alleges the girl "participated in the planning and deliberation leading up to the killing and participated in the murder by encouraging [the boy] to kill Stefanie."

The decision pointed to computer and cellphone records "that show constant communication with [the boy] on the night before the murder as he stood in the darkness near their intended victim's home."

"It is apparent that in the time before and after the murder, [the girl] was in constant communication with [the boy], actively encouraging him to carry out the murder with the intent that he act on her encouragement."

Following Rengel's death, some 400 people turned out for a candlelight vigil in her neighbourhood — a march that passed by a makeshift memorial of flowers near the scene of the crime.

Hundreds more turned out for the high school student's funeral, including police brass.