Nathan Desharnais, 28, who plead guilty to second degree murder in the death of Talia Nellie Meguinis, has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 13 years.
Desharnais’ trial was held earlier this month in Red Deer’s Court of Queen’s Bench, but on day nine he entered a surprise guilty plea after Justice Eldon Simpson ruled that photos found on a cell phone would be admitted as evidence in the case. Images on the cell phone, which belonged to Desharnais, were those of a woman’s body.
He was charged with second degree murder and offering indignity to human remains after the body of Meguinis, 27, who was a mother of three boys, was found at a recycling facility in the Riverside Industrial area on Feb. 22nd, 2012. The charge of offering indignity to human remains was dropped after the guilty plea was entered.
An autopsy report showed that Meguinis died of neck trauma.
Desharnais was arrested and charged in September 2012 after an undercover operation, dubbed Mr. Big, was conducted.
Sentencing took place in Red Deer’s Court of Queen’s Bench on Thursday.
Crown Prosecutor Bruce Ritter asked Simpson to consider Desharnais serve 13 years in prison before parole eligibility. A second degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence, however, parole eligibility can vary from 10 years to 25 years.
“To choke someone to death shows particular brutality,” he said, adding Desharnais had not shown remorse up to that point.
Defense lawyer Patty MacNaughton said 10 years before parole eligibility would be a fair sentence.
“The guilty plea has shown much more than small remorse – it should be given great weight.
“My client was very young when he committed this offense and he has obtained some maturity since that time. He has a lot of life left for him to become somebody who can live in society with such a horrible offense on his record.
“I don’t think we can throw Mr. Desharnais away yet. He did not have the best upbringing. He knows the foster system and substance abuse. He comes from a large family but he can’t claim a lot of support from them at this time. It’s not an excuse but it’s somewhat of a partial explanation.”
During sentencing submissions, a total of 13 victim impact statements were submitted to court records. One of Meguinis’ sisters said that losing her was like having her left arm and left leg removed.
“I still must function but how can I when I am not whole? I miss my sister and I wake in the middle of the night and I find I am crying. Trying to learn how to continue on without her is very hard. I have to let her go and just remember her but I am having trouble doing that. The last image I have of my sister is her laying in a casket and that will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Another one of Meguinis’ sisters also read her victim impact statement during proceedings. “How could anyone want to hurt such a loved person? My sister was loved by so many people and her care free spirit and trust in others cost her her life. If only I could have one more moment with her, to hug her tighter. I would have hugged her longer.”
Desharnais also addressed the court and Meguinis’ family before he was sentenced.
“I wish I could give you some kind of explanation, but there is not an explanation. I am sorry. I have to live with this for the rest of my life.”
During his verdict, Simpson said, “This attack involves senseless violence for no reason against Talia Meguinis. She entrusted her personal safety to him in a social setting. He subjected her to superior strength to harm her and he disposed of her body in order to hide what he had done.”
After court adjourned, Meguinis’ family spoke to media outside the courthouse. Nellie Big Crow, Meguinis’ cousin said her family was hoping Desharnais would not have eligibility for parole for 25 years.
“We are thankful for what he (Simpson) has given him (Desharnais). But it is going to take a while for us to heal from 13 years instead of 25,” she said.
When asked if the conclusion of the trial has brought closure for the family, Big Crow said it hasn’t.
“It’s not going to bring her back. We were supposed to grow old together,” said Yvette Meguinis, Talia’s cousin.
Big Crow added now that the judicial process is over, the family will hold a candlelight vigil in honour of Talia next week on their reserve in memory of her.