Warning: This story contains distressing details.
A man who admitted to stabbing his three-year-old daughter to death in Winnipeg last July will not be eligible for parole for 18 years.
Frank Nausigimana, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his daughter, Jemimah Bunadalian, was sentenced during a hearing at Manitoba Court of King’s Bench on Thursday.
“There’s no sentence I can impose that will heal the pain from the loss of this child,” Judge Joan McKelvey said in her decision.
“The killing of one’s own child falls within one of the worst offences imaginable.”
Second-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence, but parole eligibility can range from 10 to 25 years. The Crown asked that Nausigimana serve 19 years before he is eligible for parole, while the defence asked for 17.
Jemimah’s family had asked the judge to give him the longest possible sentence.
The girl’s mother said in a victim impact statement read in court by Crown attorney Jennifer Mann that the events from last summer are a nightmare she can’t wake up from.
“She loves to hug me and my family, but now she is gone and there are no more hugs from her. All I can hug now are her elephant and polar bear stuffed toys,” the victim impact statement said.
“I thought he loved our daughter, but how could he do this?”
CBC News is not naming the mother of the girl, because the woman is a victim of abuse.
Jemimah’s grandfather, Albert Bunadalian, who was wearing a T-shirt bearing the girl’s picture and depicting her as an angel, read his written impact statement in court.
“Because of what you did, we’ll never see her grow into her potential,” he said to Nausigimana. “You took away the bright future we had for her. Every night when I go to sleep, I have a nightmare.”
Court heard Nausigimana, 29, forced himself in his ex-partner’s car and directed her to drive. She was distraught, so he made her pull over, at which point she ran away, believing he would not hurt their daughter.
However, Nausigimana used a paring knife to stab Jemimah twice in her chest shortly after.
Then Nausigimana, who is deaf and communicates via sign language, stopped a person driving by and typed a message on his phone, telling the person to call 911 because he had just killed his daughter.
He was charged with first-degree murder but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge in an agreement with Crown prosecutors.
‘Tragic case of domestic violence’
Court heard Nausigimana and his ex-partner were in a messy custody battle, and Nausigimana was upset he only had supervised visits with his daughter.
He told Dr. Eric Johnson, a psychiatrist who issued a written forensic report in the case, that if his ex had “approved me to see the baby … the baby would be alive.”
“He’s clearly blaming [her] for his horrific and intentional acts,” Mann said.
The report said Nausigimana was experiencing rage at the time of his daughter’s homicide that he couldn’t control.
Court also heard he hadn’t planned to kill his daughter, but did want to hurt or kill his ex and her father.
Nausigimana told the psychiatrist that if she didn’t agree to 50-50 custody, he planned to kill her or cut out her eyes so she couldn’t see her child grow up.
“This is a tragic case of domestic violence that led to the vicious murder of three-year-old Jemimah,” Mann said.
In American Sign Language and translated by an interpreter, Nausigimana apologized for killing his daughter last summer, but blamed his ex-partner and her family for keeping his daughter from him.
“I asked God in prayers that hearts would change so I would be able to have time with my daughter … I pray to God to forgive my ex and her parents and family for what they did to me,” he said.
‘Nightmare’ of a childhood
Nausigimana’s defence attorney Mike Cook said his client had a difficult upbringing in his home country, the East African nation of Burundi.
There, he witnessed civil unrest, war and death on a daily basis.
“We look at the world through our Canadian eyes and that type of life is a nightmare … my client lived through that,” Cook said.
Nausigimana moved to Canada with his mom in 2009, but she struggled with alcoholism and he ended up in foster care.
Court heard Nausigimana grew up with a different view of the role of women, and coming to Canada was a “paradigm shift.”
Cook said Nausigimana has shown remorse by pleading guilty to second-degree murder, and not putting the family through a trial where they would have to testify.
“A guilty plea is the truest expression of remorse,” he said.
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