Regina’s manslaughter conviction overturned by June in the death of a 2-year-old daughter
Warning: This story contains details that some may find disturbing.
A Regina woman has to wait three months to learn the punishment for her role in the death of her two-year-old daughter.
On Friday, the Crown and the defense presented punitive arguments in the case of Brittney Catherine Emma Burghardt, 28, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and coercive detention last November.
Court of King’s Bench Judge Beverly L. Klatt told the court she will render a decision on June 16, in part because of a busy hearing schedule in April and May.
“I know that sounds far off,” Klatt said to Burghardt, who was sitting next to her attorney, Thomas Hynes. “But I want to make sure I give everything from your attorney and the DA my full attention.”
On June 9, 2021, police responded to a call at a home on Retallack Street in Regina. At the time, police were told that a young girl had been seriously injured after falling down the stairs.
The court had previously heard that first responders noticed the girl’s body was in spasm in a manner often associated with head trauma. She appeared to be unconscious with a low heart rate and sporadic breathing. She was taken to the hospital, where she underwent surgery to drain the blood that had accumulated in her head.
The girl was eventually flown to Saskatoon, where scans showed the surgery had worked but the bleeding continued. She was later pronounced brain dead and left alive to donate organs, the court heard.
She died on June 13, 2021, about a month short of her third birthday.
Further investigation revealed that Burghardt and Justin Noah Paul Anderson – with whom she was in a relationship at the time but is not the father – coordinated how the young girl was to be confined weeks before her death.
The girl often did not sleep, leading Burghardt and Anderson to tie the girl’s arms and legs and later pull a pair of shorts over her head.
Burghardt also later admitted to having initially lied about what actually happened: her daughter did not fall down the stairs. Burghardt had thrown her against the wall several times, resulting in head injuries.
She called Anderson instead of first responders when she saw her daughter go limp. They coordinated a story to tell the police.
Burghardt was initially charged with second-degree murder and Anderson was subsequently charged with aiding and abetting. Both were also charged with compulsory detention.
Burghardt’s murder charge was later reduced to manslaughter.
In Burghardt’s case, there is no mandatory minimum sentence, but under Canada’s Penal Code, life imprisonment is the maximum she can receive.
The Crown is seeking a 12-year sentence – 10 years for manslaughter plus two more years for coercive detention, prosecutor Chris White said.
Manslaughter, White said, can be committed in a myriad of ways. He cited several homicide cases involving the deaths of children, but the Crown could not find a precedent involving coercive detention, making this case “unique”.
White argued that Burghardt broke her daughter’s trust. He also noted that the abuse only affected this particular child — not the other two even younger children in Burghardt’s care at the time.
“It was her duty as a mother to take care of her. Protecting them from harm — not exposing them to it,” White said.
“She failed spectacularly in the duty she owed this child.”
Hynes, the defense attorney, sought a five-year sentence: two years for the manslaughter charge to be served in an alternative setting such as the healing lodge in Maple Creek, Sask., plus a three-year suspended sentence for the violent prisoner charge.
He also suggested to Klatt that Burghardt be sentenced under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
“We are calling for an extraordinarily unique sentence in this case because [Burghardt’s] Circumstances are extraordinary,” Hynes said.
Burghardt has low cognitive abilities because of her upbringing – much lower than others her age – he told the court.
Before her daughter’s death, she received significant help from the Ranch Erlo Society — a local nonprofit — for basic education, like being in the kitchen when feeding her children and giving them the right portions, he said.
Burghardt wanted to be a better parent, he said, citing previous reports, but she struggled to retain the information. So Hynes argued her actions on June 9 were those of a child, not a typical adult.
A juvenile guilty of manslaughter may be given a detention or custody order of up to three years under the Juvenile Criminal Justice Act. The person would serve part of the sentence in pre-trial detention and, if necessary, serve the remainder under conditional supervision in the community, the law states.
The attorney acknowledged that Burghardt had previously shown remorse for her actions. On Friday, she issued part of a statement she penned, accepting responsibility for her actions and expressing regret and longing for her daughter.
“For a long time I was very angry and I blamed others for my decisions,” she said. “I now realize that no matter what situation I found myself in, it was still my responsibility to protect and protect my children.
“I failed and failed my children.”
Hynes provided the rest, which expressed Burghardt’s hopes of getting help to become independent and a better parent, stating that she understands the need for consequences.
Burghardt was in custody from July 2021 to November 2021.