Provincial Supreme Court Judge Wayne Dymond delivered the sentence Tuesday for David Folker, found guilty last month in the slaying of 32-year-old Ann Marie Shirran. At issue was how much time he would have to spend in prison with no chance of parole.
Folker, 43, testified during his six-week jury trial that he never meant to kill Shirran when the two had a fight late on the night of July 18, 2010.
He said she died after he threw her to the floor and that he panicked, thinking police would blame him and he would lose custody of their baby son.
Folker said he hid Shirran's body in the woods near Cappahayden and lied about her disappearance until campers found her remains seven weeks later.
Dymond said Tuesday that Folker's "web of lies" raised false hopes that Shirran was alive as a costly police search dragged on.
Folker killed Shirran in the presence of their son, Dymond also noted.
"How that will affect the child in later years is not known at this time."
The judge also stressed that Folker left Shirran's body to the elements and wild animals, not showing any remorse until he admitted as his trial began that she died after they fought.
"The fact that Mr. Folker could allow this to happen speaks to his makeup as a person."
Dymond said he also considered Folker's troubled childhood in rural Nova Scotia, being raised by family friends after his parents separated.
Dymond noted that Folker got his high school equivalent in 2001 and became a welder. But he struggled to find work in Newfoundland in the weeks and months before Shirran died, his trial heard.
Dymond said Folker had no criminal history of violence in his relationship with Shirran.
The Crown wanted Folker to serve 18 years with no chance of parole, while the defence asked for 12 to 14 years.
Folker was also convicted of interfering with a dead body for how he drove Shirran's corpse, as their one-year-old son slept in his car seat, to a remote area about 100 kilometres south of St. John's. He then walked a short distance into thick forest and left it there, he testified.
Dymond sentenced him to 3 1/2 years concurrent with his life sentence on that count.
Folker apologized for his actions during a pre-sentencing hearing Dec. 4.
The couple's son, now four, is being raised by Shirran's family.
In a victim impact statement, her mother, Diane Baggs, wrote that losing a child "is this mother's worst nightmare."
She described sleepless nights and days of prayer during the search for her daughter.
"Her son will never feel her comforting arms again. There will be no more firsts, no special days, no milestones or any good times or bad times shared with his mother."
Baggs said the child suffers separation anxiety and often asks why he can't visit his mother.
"Even though he is a wonderful, loving, happy, friendly child, he realizes there is an integral piece missing in his life.
"The day is coming soon when he has to learn the truth."
Shirran's father, Jon Baggs, had already lost a son to a drunk driver in 2004. He said he has needed sleeping pills since seeing photos of his daughter's skeletal remains during Folker's pre-trial hearings.
The province's chief medical examiner testified at trial that Shirran had suffered blunt-force head injuries that would have been fatal but could not say for certain how she died.
"The images of Ann Marie's remains are etched in my brain and will go with me to the grave," wrote her father in his victim impact statement.
Outside court Tuesday, Baggs fought tears and said any relief from Folker's sentence will do little to ease his pain going forward.
"It's a chapter in our life tale that's over with and we'll just have to move on."
Shirran's brother, Dana Harrell, described an agonizing loss of faith since his sister died, coupled with rage.
"My anger is black and directed at David Folker with such intensity that it has been challenging to manage it," says Harrell's victim impact statement. But a desire to be there for Shirran's son is a powerful inspiration, he wrote.
"Those deep-rooted feelings of vengeance are rationalized away by my even greater want to be there for my sister's amazing little boy."