WARNING: This article contains details about the sexual abuse of a minor.
At the end of his two-day sentencing hearing, convicted sex offender Wade Stene apologized for kidnapping and sexually assaulting an eight-year-old girl in March 2020.
The 39-year-old rose in the prisoner's box in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench on Tuesday afternoon and began to speak to the victim's family sitting in the courtroom gallery.
"Firstly, I just wanted to say that I honestly never intended any of this to happen and I am truly sorry for what happened," Stene said in a soft, halting voice. "Deeply and honestly sorry."
Stene spoke for less than two minutes and said the word sorry five times. He also talked about his remorse.
"Truth is, I felt remorse during the act," Stene said. "It's what caused me to stop and it caused me to stop whatever evil possessed me to do what I did."
But court has been told that Stene kept the child's underwear and took a pornographic photo with it the day after the attack.
The victim's aunt issued a written statement to CBC News after listening to Stene's apology.
"It was incredibly difficult to hear my niece's rapist speak, to see him look us in the eye and state that he had remorse during 'the act,'" the victim's aunt wrote.
"Remorse rings hollow after he told the police that her tears during the assault were 'almost a mood killer.' True remorse accepts appropriate consequences."
According to an agreed statement of facts that was entered when he pleaded guilty five months ago, Stene spotted the child in an alley close to her west central Edmonton home. He was wearing a white face mask when he got out of his vehicle and grabbed her.
Stene put the little girl on a blanket in the back seat of his vehicle and bound her hands and legs with duct tape. He covered her mouth with the tape to stop her from screaming, then drove to another location, where he sexually assaulted her.
Crown prosecutor Keith Nicholls argued there were clear signs of premeditation.
"It would appear he had a rape kit in his vehicle," Nicholls said. "A mask, tape, a blanket.… Regardless of when that plan formed in his head, it certainly formed before he came across [the victim]."
Stene's lawyer argued that the Crown had not proved premeditation beyond a reasonable doubt. He said the items in Stene's car were there for practical reasons, calling them everyday items.
A fit and proper sentence
The Crown and defence are far apart on the issue of what a fit and proper sentence should be on the convictions of kidnapping, sexual assault and unlawful touching.
The Crown seeks a 20-year prison term, while the defence suggests 10 years.
"I continue to submit that 20 years is excessive and unfit," defence lawyer Mark Jordan told Court of Queen's Bench Justice Susan Richardson on Tuesday. "There is no case law that supports a sentence of that length. Ten years is the right sentence."
Jordan also suggested that any sentence imposed should be reduced by three years and seven months for pretrial custody.
The victim's aunt noted that if Stene gets the lesser sentence, her niece will be 16 when he is released.
"The court has a responsibility to make the sexual assault of a child a very serious crime with very serious consequences," the aunt wrote.
"Anything less would be an insult to all we have gone through."
Stene told the family on Tuesday that he's sorry for causing them such pain.
"I hope one day — not now — but one day down the road, maybe you can forgive me for what I've done to your family and your daughter," Stene said.
The victim's aunt said the family believes forgiveness may be possible, but not right now.
The judge will hand down her sentencing decision on Wednesday afternoon.