Warning: This article contains details that may be disturbing to readers
The second-degree murder conviction of South Surrey mother Lisa Batstone has been upheld.
In a decision shared Friday morning (Oct. 22) dismissing Batstone’s appeal, Court of Appeal justices found that trial judge Justice Catherine Murray did not err in concluding that the mother had intended to cause the death of her eight-year-old daughter, Teagan, when she smothered her with a plastic bag seven years ago.
Errors that did occur would not have changed the verdict, Justice Richard Goepel concludes.
“First, the trial judge only misapprehended the substance of the evidence concerning the length of time it would have taken the victim to die by smothering, however the error would not have changed the outcome regarding the appellant’s intent,” an online summary of the decision states.
“Second, the trial judge made two erroneous conclusions with regard to speculating how the offence occurred, however they were harmless errors and did not impact the trial judge’s conclusion that the appellant had the requisite intent.
“Finally, the trial judge did not find that every after-the-fact action was consistent with intent, rather she properly considered actions relevant to intent and the defences raised by the appellant.”
Batstone killed her daughter in the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 2014, and was charged with second-degree murder after Teagan’s body was found in the trunk of a car in a cul-de-sac off Crescent Road. Following trial in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster – during which 36 witnesses gave evidence, and the only issue was whether Batstone had intended to kill her daughter – she was handed a mandatory life sentence with a 15-year wait before she could apply for release.
Friday’s judgment comes nearly seven months after her appeal was heard.
During that March 30 virtual proceeding, lawyers for Batstone contended that their client had not received a fair trial, and that Murray had used speculation to fill in gaps in evidence in order to reach her conclusion.
Murray determined that Batstone had purposefully chosen a thick plastic bag to use on Teagan, that she watched her daughter die for four to five minutes, and in what order Batstone took the steps that she did following Teagan’s death, defence counsel Rebecca McConchie said in citing examples to support her argument.
McConchie submitted that Murray’s findings were inconsistent with the evidence and described the judge’s contention that Batstone’s post-offence conduct led to only one conclusion as “significantly prejudiced.”
In Friday’s judgment, Justice Richard Goepel said differences in interpretation of evidence heard at trial – including that regarding Batstone’s statements to police regarding what she was thinking in the lead-up to killing Teagan – are not enough to suggest that the trial judge misapprehended it.
Regarding the alleged misapprehension of evidence respecting the length of time it took for Teagan to die, “I find the appellant has not established that the judge’s finding that the appellant had held the plastic bag over Teagan’s face uninterruptedly, with enough pressure (to) block the airways for about four or five minutes – as opposed to potentially at least several or 30 seconds – would have made a difference to the judge’s finding of intent,” Goepel said.
“The judge’s error on the duration of the smothering is relatively unimportant in the context of the evidence as a whole.”
While Goepel said he agreed that the evidence does not support an inference made by the trial judge that Batstone had deliberately chosen a heavy bag with which to suffocate Teagan, he found the error “was harmless and it could not have affected the verdict.”
“The important finding was that the appellant took a bag and used that bag to suffocate her daughter,” he said. “Whether she did or did not compare various bags is of no import.”
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