MIRAMICHI, N.B. - Relatives of a teenage girl found slain in northern New Brunswick are expected to deliver victim impact statements today during a sentencing hearing for the man convicted in her death.
Earlier this month, a jury found Curtis Wayne Bonnell guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Hilary Bonnell, his 16-year-old cousin.
The conviction carries an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.
But Judge Fred Ferguson of the Court of Queen's Bench in Miramichi scheduled a sentencing hearing to allow members of Hilary's family to read victim impact statements.
The girl's body was found in a wooded area of northern New Brunswick 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, 32, 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 panicked and buried her.
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 get in a slumped position that constricts their airway.
The defence has said it is considering an appeal. It would have 30 days to file a notice of appeal, following today's sentencing hearing.