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Rengel killer gets life for 'truly evil' crime

No chance of parole for 10 years for David Bagshaw, who can now be named for the murder of Toronto teen

In the modern parlance, the regulars at the Stefanie Rengel murder case - the court officials, the Toronto Police and prosecutors who have lived intimately with the case for almost two years, even the press - all have been there, seen that, got the T-shirt and the hat.

We know by heart the number of stab wounds Stefanie received (six, one so ferocious the blade of the knife went through her body and hit her back), the number of times the killers called or texted one another in the four months before the murder (more than 3,300), the dreary, vicious language they used in discussing how Stefanie might be killed.

But Ontario Superior Court Judge Ian Nordheimer nailed it, as he did so very much else, when he said in his decision Monday, "Notwithstanding the number of times that these events have been replayed both in this court and elsewhere, they lose none of their truly evil nature when they are once again recounted."

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The remark came at the tail end of his decision to sentence David Bagshaw, the actual killer who was previously known only by his initials, as an adult. To get to his conclusion, not to mention put a spoke in the wheel of any potential appeal, Judge Nordheimer necessarily had recited the facts of the case, albeit in less detail than he had this summer when sentencing Melissa Todorovic, the teenage girl who was the driving force of the murder.

I suspect that as he was writing the decision, the last in the case, the judge was struck - and stricken - anew by the powerful tragedy he was describing. I imagine him sitting at his laptop and weeping as, unlike the rest of us, he cannot do in court - fanciful perhaps, but a function of the fact that he seems such a decent man.

In giving Mr. Bagshaw an adult sentence - it means life in prison, in his case with no parole for 10 years, whereas Ms. Todorovic by dint of her age won't be able to apply for seven years - Judge Nordheimer effectively threw the book at both young people.

The fact that the book, as prescribed by the Youth Criminal Justice Act, is a slim volume, its sting not half of what an actual adult sentence would be, is a problem not for the judge, but rather for Parliament.

Mr. Bagshaw was four days short of his 18th birthday when he lured Stefanie out of her house (he call-blocked his number and pretended to be another of her friends) to her death on New Year's Day, 2008; Ms. Todorovic was six days away from turning 16 when she rewarded him with sex for finally having done her bidding and killing the girl she mistakenly perceived as her greatest rival.

Indeed, one of the more galling aspects of the case was that mixed in among the pair's murderous online chats ("Cut fucking leotards," Ms. Todorovic snapped once when Mr. Bagshaw, trying to stall, was complaining he had no mask) was the frequent giddy discussion of the upcoming party they were planning to mark their birthdays.

By turns, they were as juvenile as six-year-olds and as crisply committed to murder, Ms. Todorovic in particular, as hired hit men: Come to think of it, that may be one definition of adolescence.

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Adults committing the same crime receive an automatic life sentence but with no parole for 25 years.

It was young Ian Rengel, now almost the age his big sister was when she was slaughtered, who spoke for the family yesterday. "Being four days shy of 18 shouldn't mean automatically knocking 15 years off the sentence for first-degree murder," he said.

"My sister Stefanie didn't even get to live 15 years."

What the "adult sentence" for Mr. Bagshaw and Ms. Todorovic really means is that the ban protecting their identities is lifted and that they will remain on parole, and thus subject to some sort of supervision, for the rest of their lives. A youth sentence, by contrast, means they never would have been publicly identified, and five years after the expiration of their sentences, the convictions for first-degree murder would have been expunged, and disappeared from the record.

Stefanie was a bright, beloved and lovely teenager of 14, the oldest child of a blended family of a total of four children, Stefanie and Ian from Patricia Hung's first marriage to Adolfo Rengel, the two littlest boys, Eric and Patrick, from her union with James Hung. Their household, even now, after the murder, remains warm, affectionate and welcoming.

Stefanie had done nothing to attract the lethal attentions of either Ms. Todorovic or Mr. Bagshaw. She had never met the former, and for a short time when she was much younger, had even befriended Mr. Bagshaw. As a result, as the judge lyrically put it, the young man had "for the briefest of periods entered the sphere of their family."

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That lent a qualitative difference to the injury they felt, the judge said, because it was "a fundamental breach of that element of trust" that the social animal, man, naturally develops with those he knows.

The judge took judicial note of this difference, which both Ms. Hung and Ian had mentioned in their victim impact statements; it was also a kindness, by way of saying that their statements, so hard in the writing and telling, had mattered.

Similarly, Judge Nordheimer offered the young man in the prisoner's box a kindness. "Unlike his former girlfriend," he said, "David seems capable of empathy and remorse. Indeed, in his statement at this hearing, David expressed in some detail his shame and his regret for what he had done and I believe he was entirely sincere when he did so." There is good in you yet, the judge was saying, so make something of it.

In the end, prosecutor Robin Flumerfelt said outside court Monday, with both young people sentenced, the process done and over, the focus was back on the beautiful girl. "The more you learn about Stefanie Rengel," he said, "and I've learned a lot, the more you realize what a loss it was."

With that, Mr. Flumerfelt went back into the courthouse, someone else who never knew Stefanie, but had her measure nonetheless through the courage and grace of her mom and her brother, her grandparents, that sprawling great family. Against all the constraints of the trial process, which is properly about the accused, those people kept that girl alive for the rest of us.

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