Canadian father guilty in girls' freezing deaths

/ Source: The Associated Press

The father of two girls found frozen to death in a snowy field last winter on a Canadian native reserve pleaded guilty Monday to criminal negligence.

Christopher Pauchay, who family members said was drunk at the time, lost his one-year-old and three-year-old daughters last Jan. 29 as he walked to a neighbor's house in temperatures that would have felt like -50 C (-58 F) because of the wind. The girls were wearing only diapers and T-shirts.

Pauchay was charged with criminal negligence for failing "to provide protection from exposure to the elements."

Pauchay, 24, sat sobbing in his courtroom chair Monday after pleading guilty. Pauchay, a member of the Yellow Quill First Nation in Saskatchewan, stood and nodded "yes" to the plea at what was to be the start of his trial in a makeshift courtroom in nearby Rose Valley.

Wept in chair
He then sat in his chair, his bandaged hands to his face, and wept. Pauchay is still recovering from the severe frostbite he suffered after spending hours in the bitter cold the day his girls died.

Pauchay's lawyer, Ron Piche, said he will ask the judge to allow an aboriginal sentencing circle to decide his client's fate. The application is to be heard Dec. 5 in Rose Valley.

The prosecution has indicated it will oppose such an arrangement and will argue for prison time in a federal penitentiary.

After Pauchay became separated from his girls last January, he eventually made it to a neighbor's house and was taken to hospital suffering from severe frostbite and hypothermia. Eight hours later, when he was able to speak, he asked about his children.

That set off a frantic search that ended hours later in a snowy field when the girls were found dead.

"There is part of the public out there that says, 'Hang him at dawn,' because he's committed a crime and two people lost their lives," Piche said outside court. "There's the other contingent out there — I would say the majority — who say he's suffered enough.

'Tragic mistake'
"He made a tragic mistake. It did indeed cost the lives of his young girls, but he's paid for that. He'll pay for it for the rest of his life."

A handful of family members accompanied Pauchay to court, including an uncle who said his nephew just wanted "justice for his babies."

Piche said Pauchay was a doting father, feels tremendous guilt and didn't want to go through the pain of a trial.

The 900-member Yellow Quill First Nation has been plagued for decades by alcohol abuse, high unemployment and a lack of housing.

Following the girls' deaths, tribal Chief Robert Whitehead called for an addictions treatment center on the reserve. A plan is in the hands of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, he said.