Samatha Le’s daughter turned 12 on the day her mother was killed — shot twice in the head at close range because she had the misfortune to interrupt a kidnapping.
The girl was celebrating her birthday when her mother died. She has been haunted ever since.
“This is a cursed day for me now. I cannot ever celebrate my birthday again,” the girl, now 14, said in a written victim impact statement read out in B.C. Supreme Court Thursday.
“I am scarred permanently and I cannot go back in time and bring her back. If only I hadn’t gone out with my friends, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. But it did.”
‘This strikes at the human condition’
A Crown prosecutor read the girl’s statement into the record Thursday at a sentencing hearing for three of six men convicted of killing 29-year-old Le and 24-year-old Xuan Van Vy Ba-Cao in East Vancouver on Sept. 17, 2016.
Matthew Stewart, Ellwood Bradbury and Erlan Acosta were also found guilty of kidnapping and extorting the target of the scheme, whose name is protected by a publication ban.
A sentencing hearing for the other three co-accused will happen at a later date. Sentences against all six will be pronounced at the same time.
Stewart, Bradbury and Acosta sat impassively as Crown counsel Karima Andani presented impact statements from nearly a dozen people whose lives have been torn apart by a brutal series of crimes that included the killing of Le and Ba-Cao in front of a four-year-old child.
“This isn’t like manslaughter that goes wrong when you have an assault or a punch where emotions are high. This was an execution with two shots to the head,” Andani told Justice Arne Silverman.
“This child was left with the bodies for several hours. This strikes at the human condition for how we care for children.”
The Crown is seeking a total of 38 years in prison for the combination of charges: 20 years for manslaughter in the deaths of Le and Ba-Cao and 18 years to be served consecutively for extortion, kidnapping and aggravated assault.
Defence lawyers are expected to argue for a much lower penalty.
‘What do I have to do?’
Stewart flexed his back muscles before sitting back in the prisoner’s dock, licking a finger and working at a piece of dirt on his shoe as Andani laid out the ripple effects of the crime, starting with a statement from the kidnapping victim.
“Perhaps I shall start with some math,” the man wrote, as he went on to calculate the number of people directly and peripherally affected. He stopped at 52.
“I could go on,” wrote the man, who was maimed over a span of 45 hours as his captors kicked, punched and tortured him in a bid to extract money.
“This is the breadth of their crime … my life was by no means perfect, but it was getting close. I had family, I had friends, I was well regarded and respected, a successful career and a future that I finally looked forward to. I had a life. Now I am a world away from all that matters to me — alone.”
Both Ba-Cao’s parents wrote letters speaking about the loss of a child.
“Both my family and soul collapsed because there was nothing to hold onto. There are no words to describe it,” Ba-Cao’s mother wrote.
“What do I have to do to hold my child in my arms?”
‘I listen to her lay in bed crying’
Andani listed a string of aggravating factors in asking Silverman to consider putting the men away for nearly four decades: greed, cold-blooded planning and the decision to kill two people who posed no threat.
“This level of callousness is almost unimaginable,” she said. “These actions also tell you everything about their true character.”
Le’s daughter now lives with her aunt, who also wrote a victim impact statement.
“I spend a lot of time crying: when I’m driving, when I’m home, when I’m sleeping, when I’m awake. The memory of my sister and the circumstances surrounding her death are constantly on my mind,” the woman wrote.
“I’m constantly trying to figure out how she felt at the moment when she realized she was about to lose her life.”
She said that she sees Le’s daughter asking herself the same questions.
“You robbed her of a life together with her mother on her birthday weekend,” the woman wrote.
“Now a day that should have been a celebration of life is filled with bitter sadness, a cursed memory. I listen to her lay in bed crying … I’ve watched her hold her breath and tears when they bring up her mother or as she watches in envy as her friends are embraced by their mothers. It’s a terrible thing.”
As the statements were read, Stewart kept rubbing away at the speck of dirt. His shoe was spotless, the imperfection visible only to him.