Mother pleads guilty to second-degree murder in death of daughter, drugged and burned alive in car
Admitted murderer Laura Coward inadvertently killed her daughter by drugging her and torching the vehicle she was in, court heard Thursday.
Crown prosecutor Mac Vomberg, reading from a statement of agreed facts, said Coward panicked when she thought the drugs she had given her daughter, Amber Lucius, had killed her.
She then set fire to a Rubbermaid tote in the back of her Ford Escape SUV, sealing her daughter’s fate, Vomberg said.
According to medical reports, the girl died from a combination of hyperthermia, smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide toxicity, he said.
“The accused admits that she intentionally caused the death of Amber, but not in the manner that she expected,” said the prosecutor, reading from a statement of agreed facts signed by Coward and her lawyer, Jim Lutz.
Coward, 50, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder in connection with the nine-year-old girl’s death in August 2014.
Qyd / WikipediaMain Street of Sundre, Alberta
Vomberg told Justice Scott Brooker the offender took her daughter to a Tim Hortons in Sundre the evening of Aug. 30, 2014.
She eventually drove to the end of a dead end road near a remote rural property nears Sundre belonging to a former boyfriend, Nick Smith.
“The accused was familiar with Smith’s property and where he kept certain items, specifically keys to access his residence and holiday trailer on the property,” Vomberg said.
“Sometime after parking at the edge of the Smith property, the accused admits she administered to both herself and to Amber a toxic but non-lethal dose of Zopiclone.”
The sleeping medication rendered the girl unconscious, the prosecutor said.
“The accused admits that sometime later she woke up. She checked Amber and mistakenly thought she was dead. The accused panicked.”
WikipediaA file photo of a 7.5 mg zopiclone tablet
At the time, Coward was involved in custody battle over the child with her ex-husband, Duane Lucius.
Just days before Amber was killed, Lucius was granted several court orders which granted him a divorce and custody of his daughter with Coward granted access.
Lucius dropped his daughter with Coward on Aug. 28, 2014, and was expecting her back three days later, so he could prepare her for the beginning of school.
The case was a trying one for police investigators.
The Mounties deployed 35 members to investigate the case they described as emotionally difficult enough to require the support of grief counsellors.
At the time of her death, her father Lucius spoke of the immense pain.
“I am devastated by the tragic loss of my innocent, sweet and lovely daughter,” he said in a statement.
“The time I had with Amber was cut short. The time I had with her will always be the most special time of my life.”
She checked Amber and mistakenly thought she was dead. The accused panicked
He urged other parents “to have fun with your children and never take them for granted.”
Lucius said he and Coward were going through a divorce at the time of Amber’s death.
The case prompted an investigation to determine if police had failed to issue an Amber Alert when the girl went missing.
An internal RCMP review found no fault in how they handled the case.
Coward will be handed an automatic life sentence for killing her daughter, but the issue of parole ineligibility must still be determined.
Vomberg said he and Lutz are not in agreement as to what period that should be.
The case is back in court on March 3.
With files from Bill Kaufmann