MIRAMICHI, N.B. – The mother of a teenage girl found slain in the woods of northern New Brunswick three years ago says she hopes the man convicted of killing her daughter is haunted by his actions.
Pam Fillier, the mother of Hilary Bonnell, delivered an emotional victim impact statement Wednesday during a sentencing hearing for Curtis Wayne Bonnell, the 16-year-old girl’s cousin.
Fillier trembled and sat silently for about a minute before beginning to read her statement to the Court of Queen’s Bench in Miramichi.
“My heart is so broken and filled with grief,” Fillier said.
“I hope the memory of what he did haunts him for the rest of his life.”
Earlier this month, a jury found Curtis Bonnell, 32, guilty of first-degree murder in Hilary’s death. The conviction carries an automatic sentence of life in prison with no parole eligibility for 25 years.
Fillier’s husband told the court that the last three years have been a blur and his entire family is on medication to help cope with the tragedy.
“Curtis Bonnell, you’ve done a lot of damage to my family,” Fred Fillier said. “You gave Hilary a life sentence along with my wife, my kids and me.”
Hilary’s body was found in a wooded area in November 2009, about two months after she vanished from the Esgenoopetitj (Es-geh-no-peh-titch) First Nation. Her disappearance triggered an extensive search and gripped the native community.
During the seven-week trial, the jury heard a tape of an interview Curtis Bonnell gave police, during which he told them he fought with Hilary, sexually assaulted her and killed her.
But Bonnell offered a different version of events when he testified in his defence.
He said he woke up on Sept. 5, 2009, after a night of alcohol and drugs to find Hilary dead next to him in his pickup truck. He said he didn’t know how she died, but buried her while in a state of panic.
Bonnell said police filled his head with what they believed happened, and he just told them what he thought they wanted to hear.
The court was told that autopsy and toxicology reports were inconclusive on the exact cause of death, but termed the manner of death as a homicide.
But a forensic pathologist called by the defence disagreed with the homicide determination, saying Hilary could have died as a result of “positional asphyxia,” which can happen when someone is intoxicated and they fall into a slumped position that constricts their airway.
Hilary’s father, Boyd Bonnell, wept as he read his victim impact statement.
“I often cry myself asleep,” he said.
“It still hurts me that I will not see her graduate or walk her down the aisle. … all the things a father should do with their daughter.”
Outside the court, he said the family is making arrangements to have Hilary’s remains cremated. Pam Fillier said she plans to erect a monument and set up a small park in Hilary’s memory in Esgenoopetitj, which is also known as Burnt Church.
In formally delivering his sentence, Judge Fred Ferguson reflected on the tragic nature of Hilary’s death.
“She joins a long list of aboriginal Canadian women who have disappeared from our streets, in far too many cases, never to be found,” Ferguson said.
“In this case, unfortunately for her family, she was found but not alive. At the very least, she has been brought back to them.”
Ferguson offered Curtis Bonnell an opportunity to speak, but he declined.
While the conviction carries an automatic life sentence with no parole eligibility for 25 years, Ferguson told Bonnell he can make an application under the Criminal Code’s so-called faint hope clause to apply for earlier parole eligibility after he serves 15 years.
If granted, he would still have to go before the National Parole Board to argue his case.
The faint hope clause was repealed by the Harper government and is no longer available for offences committed after Dec. 2, 2011.
Defence lawyer Gilles Lemieux said he is considering an appeal. He has 30 days to file notice of one.
Ferguson said the start of Bonnell’s sentence would be Nov. 8, 2009, the date he was arrested.