From everything I've read about Stefanie Rengel, the Toronto teenager who was stabbed six times and left to bleed to death on an icy sidewalk in January, 2008, she seemed at 14 like a terrific kid. One of her classmates told a local television station, "she was like the nicest person in the world … you could have been mean to her and she still would have been the nicest person to you. She didn't care."
From everything I've read about M.T., the now 17-year-old girl who is to be sentenced tomorrow after being convicted of first-degree murder for cajoling her boyfriend to kill Stefanie, she is a monstrous kid.
One who at 15, fuelled by an atypical murderous rage, but also by jealousy and the toxic teen culture in which she lived, relentlessly campaigned to have Stefanie, whom she had never met, put to death.
In their victim impact statements, Stefanie's parents and brother presented heartbreaking statements about how much they missed her, and how fearful and paralyzed they had all become as a result of M.T.'s actions.
They think they will feel better if M.T. wears the crime for life, and no doubt many people would agree with them.
And yet I believe that M.T. should not be sentenced as an adult, serve a life imprisonment term in an adult facility or be on probation for the rest of her life, as the judge must decide.
Although I shudder when I think of the kind of single-minded venom that propelled M.T. to text her boyfriend D.B, who did the actual slaying, "I want her dead … lol," 15 is not near enough to adulthood to be measured as an adult. Fifteen is a mess, a kid at the height of denial, lacking in mature moral culpability.
Who we are at 15 going on 16, is not who we will be at 25. If M.T. is sentenced as an adult and serves a mandatory life sentence in an adult prison system she will be less likely to change, to become a better person, one who ultimately feels true remorse and who lives a different life as a result of her sentencing.
Many would, and are, arguing that M.T. does not deserve such a break. But it's not really a break - under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, it's her right to be sentenced as a youth. As Paula Osmok, executive director of the John Howard Society of Ontario told me in an e-mail, "Canadians have already decided that young people should be treated differently under the law because they are different: Their immaturity means they have less capacity to make decisions and consider the consequences of their actions."
If M.T. is sentenced as a youth under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, she will be given a maximum sentence of 10 years, serving six in a treatment facility and another four under supervision in the community. She may well remain publicly anonymous, ensuring her, a decade down the road, the best chance to reintegrate into society.
Stefanie had a right to flourish into adulthood but won't, and though M.T. is the one who took away that right, she still must be treated and even protected as a child a little bit longer.
There are many searing emotional matters at stake here that have little to do with the actual letter of the law. In his sentencing, Mr. Justice Ian Nordheimer is supposed to take into account the seriousness of M.T.'s crime, her age and maturity, and whether the sentence he hands down actually holds her accountable. (She didn't physically kill Stefanie nor was she at the scene of the crime, but there's no doubt that without her, the crime would not have happened.)
And then there is the question of remorse. Many observers have remarked on M.T.'s palpable lack of remorse. Although she did read a short statement at her sentencing hearing saying she was "sorry for everything that I've said and done to contribute to Stefanie's death," at least one report said that while she rubbed her eyes, "her cheeks were dry."
But as Anthony Doob , professor of criminology at the University of Toronto points out, "we're not very good at evaluating remorse." Furthermore, he says, "people do change, even people who have committed murder."
None of this can mitigate the howling grief, rage and even bloodlust of those whose lives have been destroyed or damaged by M.T.'s horrific crime.
I don't envy Judge Nordheimer. His decision tomorrow will undoubtedly devastate one family further and will determine the life course of a kid who, apart from her immediate family, nobody feels remotely good rooting for.
But in her own best interests and in the interest of society, M.T should not only be held accountable for her crime, but get the best possible chance there is to be rehabilitated. Life is desperately unfair, but justice shouldn't be.