Citing 'a hatred so vile,' judge denies bail request

From Thursday's Globe and Mail


The teenaged girl alleged to have been the mastermind of the New Year's Day slaying of Stefanie Rengel and to have used her boyfriend "as an instrument" of her jealous hatred wept in court yesterday as she was remanded in custody pending her trial.

At one point, granted a few minutes with her family by Superior Court Judge David McCombs, the 16-year-old, who was in previous appearances preternaturally composed, broke down and allowed herself to be swallowed up in the embrace of her crying mother.

Standing nearby were the girl's father and her round-faced little brother, just 10, who was sobbing in despair.

The contrast between this shattered family, whom the judge praised as loving and committed, and the shocking nature of the allegations against their first-born could not have been more stark.

The girl and her boyfriend, who is now 18, are both charged with first-degree murder in the death of Ms. Rengel.

The 14-year-old was apparently the very first girlfriend of the young man.

But where he is alleged to have been the person who actually lured Stefanie out of her east-end Toronto home with a telephone call, stabbed her six times and left her bleeding to death in the snow, the girl, who wasn't present at the time Stefanie died, is alleged to have "actively encouraged" him to do it.

By law, anyone who encourages someone else to commit first-degree murder, intending that he carry out the crime, is guilty of the same offence as a party.

"It is apparent that the motive for this murder was senseless jealousy on the part of [the girl]," Judge McCombs said yesterday in his ruling.

"It engendered a hatred so vile that she wanted the object of her jealousy, an innocent adolescent, dead. And she used [the young man] as an instrument of her hatred, by manipulating him and persistently encouraging him to carry out a planned and deliberate murder ..."

Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, neither teen can be identified by name.

But the girl's lawyer, Marshall Sack, didn't ask Judge McCombs for the additional usual publication ban, mandatory under Section 517 of the Criminal Code if the accused seeks it.

In fact, Mr. Sack told the judge that since his reason for denying the girl bail is to preserve the public's confidence in the administration of justice, it follows naturally that the public also has the right to know why he came to that conclusion.

In the result, The Globe and Mail and other media may publish the judge's reasons, including his characterizations of the allegations against the girl and other details from the bail hearing last week.

Only the specific evidence Toronto Police has gathered against the girl, part of a synopsis that Crown attorney Robin Flumerfelt previously read into the record, is banned.

In his ruling, Judge McCombs found that this evidence - which includes cellphone and computer records showing the girl "was in constant communication" with her boyfriend both the night before and the evening of Stefanie's death, "actively encouraging him to carry out the murder" from the bedroom where her parents believed she was planning her "sweet 16" birthday party and watching TV - was sufficient to conclude that "This appears to be a very strong case."

The apparent strength of the prosecutor's case, as well as the gravity of the offence, the circumstances surrounding its commission and the potential for a lengthy term of imprisonment are factors that must be present for a judge to deny bail on public confidence grounds.

These are the so-called "tertiary" grounds on which an accused can be detained in custody.

The primary and secondary reasons for detention are respectively to ensure the accused will turn up for court appearances or for the protection or safety of the public. Judge McCombs found that the girl would attend court as directed and that she wasn't a danger.

The girl's parents both testified on her behalf at last week's hearing and were, as the judge noted, "willing to pledge their entire equity [in their home] of over $200,000."

Moreover he said, "I was very favourably impressed by both of them. They are clearly committed and loving parents. They are also responsible and hard-working ... I have no doubt that if bail were to be granted, they would be responsible sureties, that they would do their utmost to ensure compliance with any bail conditions that might be imposed" and even "notify the authorities if their daughter were to fail or refuse to comply" with any court rules.

He also described the parents as "candid and realistic" in their testimony and the watchful supervision of their daughter they promised.

The girl herself, the judge said, is "an outstanding student" in Grade 10 with a 90-per-cent average and "universally positive" evaluations from her teachers. Her education at a secure youth detention centre, Judge McCombs said, would not be "anything approaching the level of schooling she was receiving prior to her arrest."

But, noting that Stefanie's "senseless killing and the subsequent arrest of two teenagers for first-degree murder have generated nation-wide media attention," the judge said, "this was a particularly heinous crime. It has shocked the conscience of right-thinking people across the country.

"I have concluded this is one of those rare cases where detention is justified ... and necessary in order to maintain confidence in the administration of justice."

If convicted of first-degree murder, a judge would have to decide whether the girl should be sentenced as an adult or as a young person. The mandatory sentence for a youth sentenced as an adult is life in prison without eligibility for parole for 10 years, while for a youth sentenced as a young person, the maximum sentence is six years in custody followed by four years of supervision.