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By Neil Bowen, QMI Agency
SARNIA, Ont. – A 50-year-old Wallaceburg, Ont., woman has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years for murdering her two grandchildren.
“I am devastated by my actions,” said Jane LaMarsh, reading from a single sheet of paper during the sentencing. “I understand I need so much help and treatment.”
LaMarsh pleaded guilty Friday to the second-degree murder of 10-year-old Tyler Bernard and his six-year-old sister Taiya Talbot.
A packed and hushed courtroom listened as disturbing details of the case were entered into evidence.
On Dec. 3, 2009, LaMarsh picked the children up at their mother’s home and told others she was taking them to shop in nearby Wallaceburg.
In a preliminary hearing, their mother Stefanie Bernard testified her last words to her children were: “Be good.” She expected them to return in about 20 minutes.
“She (the mother) never could have foreseen the terrible turn of events,” said Judge Renee Pomerance as she announced the sentence.
LaMarsh’s last words to her grandchildren were: “Oh my God guys, I’m so sorry,” as she directed her Ford Tempo off the St. Clair Parkway at around 7 p.m.
She had made a U-turn to head southbound towards Wallaceburg. She made no attempt to steer away or brake as she drove down the river embankment on an angle for 91 metres. Collision deconstructionists testified during the preliminary hearing it took six to seven seconds to hit the 49 F water.
A witness testified the car came off the huge boulders at the shoreline and “jumped” into the river.
LaMarsh’s 12-year-old daughter was also in the vehicle. She had testified during the preliminary hearing that she assumed her mother was heading for a driveway at the bottom of the embankment.
As the water came in, nobody said anything, the now-teenager testified.
She had pulled at Taiya, trying to get her free and out the door she had managed to open. She finally had to leave when she could not hold her breath any longer.
The teenager decided not to attend Friday’s sentencing.
“I can’t imagine what she’s going through,” said Det-Sgt. Scott MacLean of the Sarnia Police.
She had to come to terms with her mother’s admission she tried to kill her, and she’s coping with survivor’s grief that will require long-term counselling, said MacLean.
At the preliminary hearing, she testified she did not believe her mother tried to kill her. A charge of attempted murder was withdrawn.
A court order has prohibited publication of the teenager’s name.
The emergency responders that arrived on scene were unable to revive the children after pulling them from the car 90 minutes later. The vehicle was submerged in about 15 feet of water.
A passerby waded chest deep into the river, struggling against the icy water’s current, trying to reach the car, but it was too far away and too deep.
A Sarnia police officer who arrived on the scene minutes after the car submerged rushed into the water towards the headlights that were still shining, but was also forced back.
“We all hold children dear to our heart,” said MacLean.
The second-degree murder conviction comes with an automatic life sentence. LaMarsh will be granted parole eligibility after serving 10 years.
The guilty plea followed consultation between Crown and defence lawyers, along with police and the victims’ family.
The grandmother was in an emotionally disturbed state suffering from a mental illness, but under the law, remained responsible for her actions, said Judge Pomerance.
Crown attorney Richard Weatherston said LaMarsh had a 15-year history of depression.
In 2008, she told a mental-health nurse she had previously thought about driving into head-on collision with her daughter in the car and had attempted to gas herself, her daughter and grandchildren.
In July 2009, LaMarsh wrote on a mental-health form she would kill herself if she had the chance.
In October 2009, she complained to a psychiatrist about stressful events at home and said a new medication was not improving her mood.
A followup appointment had been set for Dec. 4, 2009, the day after the murder.
On Dec. 4, she had to be admitted to hospital because she was suicidal. Her husband had to take a knife away from her.
While at the hospital, she told a nurse she had tried to commit suicide by driving into the river. She later denied making the statement.
She told another nurse on Dec. 3 she had been angry and nobody listened to her. She also said she gets satisfaction from taking revenge on people.
Defence lawyer Lynda Lamb said LaMarsh knew something was wrong and was desperately seeking help.
“She did not get it,” Lamb said.
It is “very troubling” LaMarsh’s suicidal and homicidal thoughts were never brought to the attention of authorities, she said, adding there will, hopefully, be some sort of investigation.
She added she raised the issue not to excuse LaMarsh’s actions, but to attempt to figure out why this tragedy happened.
Pomerance recommended LaMarsh receive an immediate mental-health assessment and treatment when she enters the prison system.
She also recommended she be placed in a facility equipped to provide such treatment.