EDMONTON — Convicted murderer Tesfai Negasi showed little emotion through weeks of difficult court proceedings and so it was on Wednesday when he was handed a life sentence with no chance of applying for parole for 17 years for killing his wife.
The 54-year-old Edmonton resident did not react when court heard graphic testimony at his trial about the murder and dismemberment of his wife, 46-year-old Selamawit Negasi. He mostly stared ahead when his four daughters tearfully told court last week about how the loss of their mother has devastated their lives.
And he did not react on Wednesday when Court of Queen's Bench Justice Juliana Topolniski called his crimes "callous, cruel and barbaric acts," before handing down the sentence.
In the courtroom were almost two dozen friends and family of Selamawit Negasi, many of whom wept quietly when the proceedings finished.
"Mr. Negasi committed the ultimate act of spousal abuse while in a position of trust," Topolniski said.
In reading her decision, Topolniski noted the brutality of the crime. Selamawit Negasi's remains were so mutilated that a medical examiner could not pinpoint the cause of her death and speculated it was likely drowning, strangulation, head trauma or smothering.
"No one will ever know the terror, pain, or betrayal she felt before she lost consciousness and succumbed to death at her husband's hands," she said.
The judge also noted the long-term effects on the couple's four daughters, the youngest of whom was six when her mother was killed. Last week, the court heard victim-impact statements from the daughters who described their mother as the loving backbone of their family.
They called her a "survivor" who had survived breast cancer and earned a nursing degree, several years after moving to Canada from her native Eritrea.
The three oldest daughters are now trying to secure custody of their eight-year-old sister from their father.
"Their love for (their younger sister) is self-evident. The burden which they bear at a young age is a heavy one," Topolniski said.
A second-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence, but parole eligibility can be set between 10 and 25 years. A Crown prosecutor last week argued for Tesfai Negasi to spend at least 20 years behind bars, while his defence lawyer called for at least 12 years in prison.
The sentencing decision comes after several days of trial this summer, during which court heard that Tesfai and Selamawit Negasi had shared a troubled relationship for years. The couple would sometimes not speak to each other for weeks and the three adult daughters testified that their father was the aggressor during arguments.
In the weeks before her death, Selamawit Negasi had told several people she thought her husband was following her. She was preparing to divorce him when she was killed on July 5, 2009. That's when Negasi killed her in the family's Cherry Grove home on the city's north side, dismembered her body and placed the pieces into plastic bags.
Tesfai Negasi tried to clean up the scene of the crime, but when his daughters came home and found what they suspected to be blood and signs of a struggle in their mother's bedroom, they called police.
When he learned officers were at the scene, Tesfai Negasi drove to police headquarters and told officers he had killed his wife.
Officers discovered several plastic bags in the trunk of his car. Selamawit Negasi's body had been cut into 10 pieces, then wrapped in plastic and bed sheets.
The judge called Tesfai Negasi's confession to police a "marginal" mitigating factor in the case because it was given after police had arrived at the scene.
A jury found him guilty of second-degree murder and indecent interference with human remains in June.