KITCHENER, Ont. — A young woman who sexually blackmailed her boyfriend into killing a 14-year-old girl she saw as a rival more than a decade ago must report any relationships she has with men while living in a halfway house, the Parole Board of Canada said Tuesday as it granted her day parole for six months.
Melissa Todorovic will face a restriction on friendships and romantic relationships with men and must immediately disclose them to her parole officer, the board said after a hearing on the 26-year-old’s case.
Todorovic’s difficulties with relationships and her struggles with jealousy were scrutinized during a hearing at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. — the women’s prison where she has been serving a sentence for orchestrating the killing of Stefanie Rengel in 2008.
Her parole officer, Angie Strome, said Todorovic would never have the opportunity to enter into a heterosexual romantic relationship while in the institution and has few options left in terms of programs at the facility.
The two-member parole panel found that while Todorovic still has work to do and should expect to continue counselling for a long time, she has made progress in understanding what led her at age 15 to order Rengel’s killing.
For years, Todorovic maintained she did not believe her then-boyfriend, David Bagshaw, would go through with the slaying. She told the panel Tuesday she now feels “horrible” for her actions.
“I never want to be that person again. I don’t want to harm anybody else,” Todorovic said quietly. “I wish I could take everything back. I take full responsibility for Stefanie’s death … if it wasn’t for me, Stefanie would be alive.”
The parole board panel noted that Todorovic had several chances to call off the plot, including a phone call with Bagshaw minutes before the attack.
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“You didn’t try to stop it,” board member Michael Sanford said.
“I should have,” Todorovic replied.
Rengel’s mother, Patricia Hung, wept as the panel announced its decision. She said after the hearing that the outcome was disappointing, noting that Todorovic appeared largely emotionless even in expressing remorse.
“I felt it was a bit scripted,” Hung said, adding Todorovic has yet to apologize.
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In an interview with Global News on Tuesday, Hung expresses that Todorovic gets to restart her life, unlike her daughter.
“She gets to start her life now and Stefanie doesn’t.”
Hung said she didn’t feel like this was a very long life sentence.
“We were hoping she would obviously stay a bit longer, but we sort of had resigned ourselves to the fact that this was probably what would be the outcome.”
Despite what she’s been through, Hung expresses concerns of what Todorovic will become once she begins parole.
“I worry about [Melissa] more than anything else. And I worry about the people she’s going to have relationships with in the future.”
In a victim impact statement read during the hearing, Hung said that though her family may appear on the surface to have survived a “terrible tragedy” and come out stronger, they will never fully recover from the brutal murder,
“Once she murdered my daughter, something inside me broke,” Hung said. “Sometimes I think of it as a broken filter. I can no longer filter out intrusive fearful feelings. No amount of psychologist visits, exercise or prescriptions can stop this from happening.”
Hung also expressed doubts about Todorovic’s prospects for rehabilitation.
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“I do not see a changed person in Melissa. I see someone who has become more cunning, hoping with those few words of so-called remorse that she is fooling those who should have the experience to see through them,” she said. “I do not hear empathy here, except for herself.”
Todorovic was convicted in 2009 for masterminding the murder of Rengel, a girl she had never met but who became the focus of her jealousy.
Rengel had briefly dated Bagshaw years earlier and Todorovic threatened to break up with him or withhold sex unless he killed his former flame. He eventually carried out her command, stabbing Rengel six times and leaving her to die in a snowbank outside her house on New Year’s Day, 2008.
In 2009, Todorovic was sentenced as an adult to life in prison with no chance of parole for seven years, the maximum adult sentence for someone her age. She challenged the ruling but it was upheld on appeal.
The appeal delayed Todorovic’s application for parole, even though she became eligible for day parole in 2013 and full parole two years later, the panel said Tuesday.
At various points throughout the hearing, Todorovic contradicted evidence presented during her trial and Bagshaw’s, saying she had met Rengel once and denying she had sex with Bagshaw after the killing.
The board noted Todorovic has made few friendships either in prison or during her absences from the institution, which include three 72-hour unescorted absences and several months where she was allowed to work outside the facility and return at night.
When asked how she would handle a romantic relationship, Todorovic said she wasn’t looking to be in one. She then conceded that going on a date would be stressful but that she would seek support from her case management team.
“If I’m ever in a relationship in the future… I want a good healthy relationship,” she said, adding that she has taken courses on anger management and setting boundaries.
Her parole officer said Todorovic needs to work on gaining empathy and struggles to show emotion when under pressure.
Todorovic will be released to a halfway house in Brampton, Ont., when a space opens up. She is barred from coming within a kilometre of Rengel’s relatives and cannot contact them directly or indirectly.
—With files from Global New’s Caryn Lieberman