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Tina Fontaine's family weeps as men who killed father apologize

10/15/2014 12:14 EDT | Updated 12/14/2014 05:59 EST
Members of Tina Fontaine's family wept in a Winnipeg courtroom today as two men who killed the teen's father in 2011 tearfully apologized for what they did.

Nicholas Abraham and Jonathan Starr pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this year in the death of Eugene Fontaine.

The 41-year-old was found behind a garden shed in the Sagkeeng First Nation, northeast of Winnipeg, on Oct. 31, 2011.

​Court heard during a sentencing hearing on Wednesday that Abraham, Starr and Eugene Fontaine were on a three-day bender when Starr and Fontaine got into a fight over money.

Fontaine was stomped on the head, tied up and put in a shed, where he died of a head injury, court was told.

The Crown has asked for a 10-year sentence for each of the accused.

Members of Fontaine's family said they believe the killing of Eugene Fontaine played a role in the death of his 15-year-old daughter, Tina, whose body was found in the Red River in August.

In a written statement that was read aloud in court, Tina Fontaine's guardians, Thelma and Joe Favel, said Tina had planned to write her own victim impact statement about her father's death, but she lost her way.

"They took his life and then really that … interrupted Tina's life, where she had to struggle and try and figure out on her own, like, how to deal with it," Robyn Fontaine, one of Eugene's sisters, told CBC News on Tuesday.

Winnipeg police are investigating Tina Fontaine's death as a homicide, but no arrests have been announced to date.

Her death has renewed public discussions about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, as well as the state of Manitoba's child welfare system. Tina was in its care during the last weeks of her life.

'I am truly sorry'

Abraham's lawyer told the court that his client has little memory of the night Eugene Fontaine was killed, but he takes responsibility for what happened.

Court heard that both Starr and Abraham had a rough upbringing that included violent parents that resulted in them having alcohol and/or substance abuse issues.

Abraham sobbed as he apologized repeatedly to Fontaine's family.

Speaking to the court, Abraham said he wishes he was dead, not Fontaine, and noted that he has a daughter and he doesn't want her to grow up to be like him.

Starr faced the Fontaine family as he read from a prepared statement, saying, "I am truly sorry" and asking for forgiveness.

Starr told the court that he will carry with him the burden of taking away the life of a father.

The sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 10.

Was fighting cancer

Family members said Eugene Fontaine was battling cancer and had four months to live at the time of his death.

"I want them to know that they took a really good guy out of this world," said Lana Fontaine, one of Eugene's sisters.

"He was a hard worker, a great father and a good friend. He would have taken his jacket off for even them."

During their father's cancer fight, Tina Fontaine and her sister lived with the Favels, their great-uncle and great-aunt.

Tina Fontaine ran away from the Favel household this past summer and was last seen alive in Winnipeg.

"She was just a kid. She didn't know how to deal with it; she didn't have nobody's support," Robyn Fontaine said of her niece.

"My aunt and my uncle were trying to look for that support and they were just turned away."

The Fontaines said they are disappointed that the men who killed their brother have pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were not convicted of murder.

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