Stepmom sentenced in 'savage' killing


TORONTO (CP) - A stepmother who watched her husband savagely beat his five-year-old daughter to death before dismembering the wisp of a child must spend at least 15 years behind bars, a judge ruled Monday.

In imposing a sentence significantly harsher than the minimum, Superior Court Justice David Watt said 49-year-old Kaneez Fatima failed to intervene as her enraged husband attacked little Farah Khan in their apartment four years ago.

"She was not the mere spectator immobilized by fear," Watt said during his 90-minute ruling.

"She did nothing to stop the onslaught."

Farah's father, Muhammad Arsal Khan, was convicted in April of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole for at least 25 years for a crime that had even a city somewhat inured to violence gasping in revulsion.

Fatima, who married Khan in Pakistan in the late 1990s, was convicted of second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence without parole for a minimum of 10 years.

Dressed in a green prison sweatsuit, the short, heavy-set woman with ash-grey hair in front and jet black hair at the back stood impassively Monday as an interpreter relayed Watt's decision to her.

The defence said it expected an appeal of both the verdict and sentence.

Prosecutor David Fisher, who wanted Fatima's parole ineligibility set at 18 to 20 years, said the convictions and sentences should provide "a measure of closure to our community and ensure that some justice has been achieved for Farah."

Watt noted 10 jurors urged that Fatima spend 15 and 25 years in prison.

That in itself was "somewhat uncommon" given the sympathetic portrait of her painted by the defence, Watt said.

At their trial earlier this year, jurors heard how on Dec. 6, 1999, just six months after the new family arrived in Canada, Khan flew into a rage because Farah, barely three feet tall and weighing 35 pounds, wanted to buy a school picture.

He chased the terrified girl around the family apartment, beat her, and smashed her head against a coffee table until she stopped screaming.

He then took her into the bathroom, where he slit her throat and dismembered her.

Some of Farah's remains were found by a passerby at a waterfront park, but her torso was carried off and eaten by animals.

Fatima tried to cover up the killing and "barbaric" dismemberment by helping transport pieces of the body in garbage bags "like refuse to be left at curbside," Watt said.

She also cleaned up the apartment and lied about the child's absence from senior kindergarten by telling a sob story about the girl's mother dying in Pakistan.

In arguing previously for the minimum parole ineligibility, defence lawyer John Collins said Fatima loved the girl who called her "mommy" as if she were her own child.

Collins said Fatima was a battered wife powerless to stop the vicious assaults on her stepdaughter.

Watt rejected that excuse.

Fatima must have known her husband had beaten Farah on several occasions prior to the one that proved fatal, but didn't report the abuse or take the child to a doctor, he said.

"As a step-parent, she committed an egregious breach of trust," Watt concluded.

Watt noted Fatima, a Canadian citizen since 1992, had successfully left her first abusive marriage, so she could have left Khan.

Fatima, who is being treated for psychosis and severe depression, has already been in prison for more than four years. As a result, she will become eligible to apply for parole on Jan. 19, 2015 - the 15th anniversary of her arrest.