A 33-year-old man, who apologized for brutally strangling Jenna Cartwright in a paranoid, drug-fuelled state, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Red Deer court.
“I am ashamed that this has happened,” said Bashir “Donovan” Gaashaan, who faced Cartwright’s family from the prisoner’s dock after spending most of Monday morning looking down at his lap.
“I wish I could take it back,” he added. “I take full responsibility. I wish I could make this better, but I can’t.”
Gaashaan was originally charged with first-degree murder in the March 30, 2011 killing of the 21-year-old Red Deer woman. But he pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of second-degree murder, which indicates there was no premeditation in the killing.
Gaashaan, of no fixed address, also pleaded guilty in Red Deer Court of Queen’s Bench to committing an indignity to human remains by dumping Cartwright’s partially clad body in a treed area east of Olds, about six metres from a rural roadway.
Cartwright, who was last seen on March 29, was reported missing on April 12. Her remains were discovered in a ditch on May 3, 2011.
Reading her victim impact statement in court, Jenna’s mother, Lynda Cartwright, said she continues to feel guilty she couldn’t protect her daughter.
“This has left a hole that will never be filled. It feels like my heart was ripped out of my chest,” said Lynda, who’s particularly devastated that her granddaughter, Jayda, will never know her deceased mother.
“How do you tell (a child) your mom won’t be there on your first day of school … or on your wedding day or when you have a baby? … I doubt I’ll ever stop grieving,” said Lynda, whose health has worsened. “When I’m old and in need of the comfort of my children, someone will always be missing …”
Jenna’s twin sister, Marissa, was also in court along with their brother and other friends and relatives.
Gaashaan, who had a previous drug conviction, had been ordered deported from Canada in 2009, but this was overturned by the Immigration and Refugee Board. On Monday, Red Deer court heard Gaashaan is certainly expected to be deported back to his native Somalia after he serves his murder sentence.
A second-degree murder conviction carries a life sentence with the opportunity to seek parole after 10 years
Crown prosecutor Bruce Ritter asked Justice Donna Read to increase this ineligibility to 12 years because of the brutality of the crime, and because of Gaashaan’s callous treatment of Cartwright’s body.
According to an agreed-upon statement of facts: Cartwright and Gaashaan, then 29, had been drinking alcohol and consuming cocaine and crack cocaine. At one point, Gaashaan left Cartwright alone in a room in a home the accused was sharing with a roommate on McBlaine Close in Red Deer. When he returned, he claimed some drugs were missing. In an “anxious and paranoid” state, he searched the house for the items.
When Cartwright followed him to another room, he angrily flipped her onto the ground and “manually strangled” her. To stop her screams, he shoved a balled-up shirt into her mouth.
An autopsy later determined that strangulation and gagging caused her death
While Gaashaan might not have planned to kill Cartwright, the Crown argued he certainly meant to cause her bodily harm, acting in a “reckless,” violent manner.
Gaashaan panicked when he realized she was dead. He rolled her partially dressed body into a duvet that he hid in the basement.
After Gaashaan’s roommate came home and discovered the body, Gaashaan loaded Cartwright’s remains into a borrowed vehicle and drove south, towards Olds. He couldn’t dig in the frozen ground, so dumped her remains near a rural road.
Gaashaan had driven all the way to Ontario, where he has relatives, when he was arrested in Thunder Bay on June 17, 2011 and charged with possessing a stolen vehicle.
He was interviewed by RCMP about Cartwright’s murder and revealed details of the crime. After being flown back to Alberta, Gaashaan has been in protected custody at the Edmonton Remand Centre for the past four years and four months.
His lawyer, Naeem Rauf of Edmonton, asked Justice Read to impose the minimum 10-year jail term before his client can have parole eligibility. Rauf blamed our drug and alcohol-filled culture, saying “it bears tragic fruit,” extinguishing, in effect, two young lives.
He told the court that Gaashaan was born into an educated family in Somalia in 1982. Along with his mother and siblings, he became a political refugee during the Somalian war, fleeing by boat to Kenya. While his relatives got admission to Canada in 1990, Rauf said Gaashaan was left behind in rough refugee camps in Syria, Turkey and Russia before being able to rejoin his family in 1993 when he was 11.
His hardship continued when he was bullied by other ethnic groups in Toronto. While Gaashaan’s siblings prospered, completing post-secondary education that landed them good jobs in Canada, Rauf’s client dropped out of high school, did some upgrading, but also dropped out of college.
After coming to Alberta to seek employment, he “fell into the drug culture.”
While Ritter credited Gaashaan for pleading guilty to save Cartwright’s family the pain of a trial, he stressed he is not a first-time offender.
“He already had violent tendencies before this incident,” said Ritter, who added the accused had 15 previous criminal convictions, including assault and robbery.
Read will consider reports from the prosecution and defence before handing down a sentence on Thursday afternoon.