WARNING: This article contains details about the sexual abuse of a minor.
A young Edmonton girl stayed away from the courtroom Monday as lawyers suggested how long the man who kidnapped and sexually assaulted her should be behind bars.
The girl was eight years old when she was attacked. Her identity is protected by a publication ban. On March 10, 2020, she was playing with a friend in Edmonton's west central McQueen neighbourhood.
When it was time for dinner, she was making the short trip home across an alley when a white vehicle drove up. Wade Stene was wearing a mask. He got out, grabbed her and put her in the back of the vehicle.
Stene bound her hands, legs and mouth with duct tape and then drove her to a remote location where he sexually assaulted her.
The forty minutes of terror the little girl endured had a devastating impact on her and her family.
"When she came into the house, she held me tight and told me she had been kidnapped," the mother told the court in a victim impact statement.
"We held onto each other and cried together and then more details came out. To hear my daughter tell me she had been raped shattered my heart."
The mother said over the past two years, her daughter had trouble falling asleep, was plagued by nightmares and had a hard time returning to school once in-person classes resumed.
"Some days when we let our daughter go biking with friends, my husband and I have to remind ourselves that if we keep her home and hold her as tightly as we really want to, we will break her spirit," the mom said through tears.
"So we let her go and pray for her healing and wholeness."
The child's father is the one who found her and brought her home that day.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about what happened," he said in his victim impact statement.
"Not a day goes by where I don't feel the pain and horror of that moment. Or anger enough to make my blood boil and thoughts of what I would do with this man if I ever got my hands on him."
A despicable creature - Victim's father
He called Stene "a despicable creature" who harmed his little girl.
He also said he's plagued by guilt because he feels he failed as a father to protect his child.
The victim's aunt told the court she is haunted by the terror her niece felt during her ordeal.
"I was terrified to learn that Wade Stene was prepared for this crime. He had tape, a blanket and a mask ready and waiting in his vehicle," the aunt said. "She thought he was going to kill and eat her."
She called releasing Stene on bail back into his victim's community a miscarriage of justice.
"To release a child rapist on bail anywhere is bad enough. To release him back to the neighbourhood of his crime is worse," the aunt said. To release a child rapist to a house that is within metres of his victim's only safe place of refuge? It was unforgivable."
Crown and defence far apart on sentencing
Stene pleaded guilty to kidnapping, sexual assault and unlawful touching in February, before the case went to trial.
On Monday, Crown prosecutor Keith Nicholls asked the judge to impose a 20-year sentence.
"This particular case is exceptional," Nicholls said. "It is exceptional in its depravity, in the shocking nature of the offence committed by Mr. Stene.... It is exceptional in the harm that it has wrought."
The prosecutor pointed to the planning and deliberation leading up to the crime.
"It was a crime of opportunity, but it was certainly premeditated," he alleged.
Stene's lawyer insisted his client did not plan the crime ahead of time. Mark Jordan said Stene had a mask in his vehicle for work-related reasons and red duct tape because he had recently moved.
"These were grave crimes, but they were grave crimes of opportunity that day," Jordan said, asking the judge to impose a 10-year sentence.
"He takes full responsibility and is highly remorseful for his actions," a Gladue report prepared for the court states. "He understands the victim must have been very scared. He prays for her daily."
Jordan said Stene, 39, was the victim of sexual assault when he was seven-years-old, has suffered depression for most of his life and attempted suicide twice in his late 20s.
The defence also argued that Stene's sentence should be reduced because of the fear Stene and his mother experienced when he was briefly released on bail in June 2020 and because of all the publicity the case has generated. With those factors, along with credit for time already served, Jordan suggested three years and seven months should be taken off any sentence imposed.
The sentencing hearing continues Tuesday. Stene is expected to address the court.
Justice Susan Richardson said she will hand down her sentencing decision on Wednesday afternoon.