No parole for 25 years for Alberta child killer

CBC News Posted: May 27, 2005 7:29 AM ET Last Updated: May 27, 2005 9:57 PM ET

Clifford Sleigh has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years in the murder, kidnapping and sexual assault of six-year-old Corrine (Punky) Gustavson.

The judge heard victim impact statements before sentencing the 42-year-old, who broke down and sobbed when he stood up to apologize to the Edmonton child's family.

Five members of Corrine's family including her sister, father and cousin read victim impact statements in court, detailing the effect the girl's 1992 death has had on them.

Corinne's father told court he had a nervous breakdown and split from his wife after the murder, while her mother said she was robbed of the chance to watch her daughter grow up, graduate and marry.

Sleigh was found guilty on all three charges on Wednesday after eleven jurors deliberated for about 11 hours. They were never told that Sleigh had two previous convictions for sexually assaulting young girls.

At the start of the trial, Sleigh admitted to abducting and sexually assaulting Punky. He tried to plead guilty to manslaughter but the Crown rejected the plea.

Punky disappeared from her north Edmonton yard on Sept. 6, 1992. Her body was found two days later in a truck yard.

She had been sexually assaulted and, according to the medical examiner, smothered.

Punky had been playing in the yard with a friend when Sleigh drove by. Court heard that Sleigh, who was angry at his common-law wife, headed out to find a girl he knew "to rape." Unable to find her, he spotted Punky and grabbed her because she was the child closest to the fence.

Sleigh was charged in 2003 with first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault, after police obtained a DNA sample from him.

Sleigh has maintained Punky was alive when he left her.

Police had considered him a suspect early in the investigation, and said his baseball cleats matched prints where Punky's body had been found. But his then-common-law wife and friends said he had been with them the entire Labour Day weekend when the girl disappeared.

Medical examiner details Punky's violent injuries

Last updated May 12 2005 04:34 PM MDT
CBC News

EDMONTON – The genital injuries six-year-old Corrine "Punky" Gustavson suffered in an attack were severe enough that they could have killed the child, had she not been smothered, medical examiner Dr. Graeme Dowling said.

"This is the worst example of this that I have seen," he testified Thursday at the first-degree murder trial of Clifford Sleigh.

Corinne "Punky" Gustavson
Sleigh has admitted to taking the girl from her front yard in September 1992 while she played with a friend, saying he chose her because she was closest to the fence. He has also acknowledged that he sexually assaulted her, but has pleaded not guilty to aggravated sexual assault.

Punky's body was found two days later in a trucking yard, dressed except for her shoes.

Dowling said the child's vagina was violently torn, and could have bled enough to cause her death, had she lived and not been treated. He said the cause of death was smothering.

Defence lawyer Peter Royal asked Dowling whether Punky could have died because of a condition where a little pressure on a nerve in the neck for a short period of time can cause death.

Dowling said it would be unusual.

Royal also asked whether the bruising to the girl's genitals could have been caused after she died. Dowling said what he saw didn't indicate that, but that it was possible.

He also testified while being questioned by the Crown that there was little blood on the girl's body or clothes and that he believed that was because the bleeding would have stopped when she died.

The medical examiner also testified that the girl's clothing appeared to have been hastily put on – both legs were through the same hole of her underwear, her pants were on backwards and her arms weren't put through her jacket's armholes.

Dowling said he believes her clothes were removed and then put back on.

During the doctor's testimony, some of Punky's family and a juror wept. The girl's uncle left the courtroom, shaking his head.

Sleigh tried to plead guilty to manslaughter at the beginning of the trial, but the Crown chose to proceed with a charge of first-degree murder.

The 42 year old was charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault in 2003.

Man charged in girl's murder admits to sexual assault

Last Updated Mon, 09 May 2005 19:25:49 EDT

CBC News

EDMONTON - A man charged with first-degree murder in the death of a six-year-old girl admitted to sexually assaulting her, court heard Monday.

The trial of Clifford Sleigh began Monday morning in Edmonton with Sleigh offering to plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter in front of the jury.

Crown attorneys rejected the plea but did accept Sleigh's guilty plea to a charge of kidnapping in the case of Corrine (Punky) Gustavson.

Gustavson disappeared from her mother's east Edmonton yard in September 1992. Her body was found two days later, fully clothed except for her shoes, in an industrial area.

Police said she had been smothered and sexually assaulted.

No arrests were made until March 2003, when police charged Sleigh, now 42, with first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault.

In his opening statement, Crown Jason Track told the jury he can prove first-degree murder, which can apply if the victim was killed in the commission of a sexual assault or kidnapping.

Track said that in an agreed statement of facts, Sleigh admits that he sexually assaulted the girl and that his semen was found on her underwear. He also agrees that the semen matches his DNA profile and that there is only a one in 25 trillion chance that it is a random match.

However, Sleigh disputes that the assault was an aggravated sexual assault.

Track told the jury the cause of the girl's death was "blunt force genital trauma."

Sleigh said in the agreed statement that he took the girl from her yard as she played with a five-year-old friend, and that he'd grabbed the child closest to the fence.

Outlining his case to the jury, Track said Sleigh had come to Edmonton the weekend Punky disappeared for a softball tournament, and was staying near the Gustavson home. The jury was also told that Sleigh had taken a friend's car for a few hours the day the girl disappeared.

The case is expected to last three weeks.



Edmonton sex slaying trial begins

Monday, May 9, 2005 Updated at 6:08 PM EDT

Canadian Press

Edmonton — A six-year-old girl whose 1992 sex slaying horrified her hometown died simply because she was playing too close to a fence.

The admission was contained in an agreed statement of facts on the opening day of trial for Clifford Sleigh, 42, who was not arrested until more than a decade after Corinne Gustavson was slain.

Monday's court proceedings began with Mr. Sleigh pleading guilty in front of the jury to kidnapping and manslaughter as the charges of first-degree murder, aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping were read.

The prosecution accepted only the kidnapping plea.

“The Crown does not accept the guilty plea (of manslaughter),” replied prosecutor Jason Track. “We intend to proceed on the charge of first-degree murder.”

Later in court, Track referred to an agreed statement of facts in which Mr. Sleigh described kidnapping and admitted to sexually assaulting the little girl.

Mr. Sleigh abducted Corinne, known as Punky because of her spiky hair, as she was playing in a backyard with another young friend. The statement of facts quotes Mr. Sleigh admitting he “chose Gustavson only because she was the closest to the fence the two girls were playing in front of.”

In his opening statement, Mr. Track described the case he will try to prove.

He said Mr. Sleigh came to Edmonton from Lodgepole, Alta., as part of a family who were meeting other relatives at a softball tournament. The residence where he was staying was near the Gustavson home, court heard.

Court also heard that Mr. Sleigh took his host's car without asking for several hours on Sunday, Sept.6 — the day Corinne was taken.

That morning, said Mr. Track, the mother of Corinne's five-year-old playmate came rushing into the Gustavson house with the news that her daughter had seen someone take Corinne.

“(The father, Ray Gustavson,) ran out in his stocking feet,” said Mr. Track. “He was unable to find her.”

It's expected the playmate will testify at the trial.

“She'll tell you one native man took Punky,” Track said. Mr. Sleigh is aboriginal.

Two days later, Corinne's body was found lying face-down in the back lot of an Edmonton trucking company by the firm's owner.

Mr. Track described the cause of death as “blunt force genital trauma.”

Although DNA profiling had been attempted during the initial investigation, technicians could not get usable evidence. However, by 2000, the technology had improved and police were able to get a complete profile.

The crime transfixed the city. Intense media coverage followed, including a feature report on the American TV series Unsolved Mysteries.


Sleigh in an undated police handout photo. (CP File Photo)







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