03/03/2017 06:29 EST

Laura Coward Case: 'I Will Never Forgive Her,' Dad Of Murdered Girl Says Of Ex-Wife

Laura Coward pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder.

CALGARY — The father of a nine-year-old girl who was drugged and killed by her mother told the woman's sentencing hearing Friday that he will never forgive her for the pain she has caused.

Duane Lucius said he can't understand how his former wife could do such a thing to her own child.

"I try to be strong for my family and friends," Lucius told a Calgary court. "I feel upset (about) how someone could do something like this to a little, innocent girl with a whole life ahead of her."

Laura Coward, 50, pleaded guilty last month to the second-degree murder of Amber Lucius and is facing an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.

Amber Lucius in a handout photo.

Holding a picture of Amber, Lucius told court he misses his daughter's warm hugs and thinks about her every day.

"I gave her mom time to spend with her, but Laura never thought it was enough. I would like to know how a person could do such a thing. I will never forgive her and I will never forget my daughter Amber because she meant a lot to me."

The girl was reported missing Aug. 31, 2014, and her mother was arrested two days later near Sundre in west-central Alberta. She was standing outside a burned truck in which her daughter's body was discovered.

Coward had Amber for the weekend and, on a trip to a remote area, gave her a toxic but non-lethal dose of a prescription sleeping medication. She mistakenly thought Amber was dead and filled the truck — with Amber unconscious inside — with paper and plastic totes before setting it on fire with a propane torch and closing the door.

An autopsy suggested the girl died of a combination of hypothermia, smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide toxicity.

Handwritten note left on car

A police officer who came upon the burned vehicle saw a handwritten note on the outside of the driver's door that read: "Help me. It was an accident. Locked keys in."

Crown prosecutor Jillian Pawlow urged the judge to require that Coward spend 20 years in custody before she can seek parole.

"The Crown submits that the accused's primary motivation was revenge-motivated, meant to inflict the most serious and permanent pain and anguish on Duane Lucius by depriving him of his only daughter," said Pawlow.

"An offence such as this one ... alarms every decent citizen. It is incomprehensible how a parent could so cruelly take the life of their young child. For any parent going through a long and protracted custody dispute with an ex-spouse, this is most definitely the greatest fear realized."

"This is a senseless and unimaginable nightmare."

Court documents described a bitter divorce between Coward and Lucius. A custody tug-of-war over their daughter had continued up until the girl was found dead.

In June 2013, a judge had named Lucius as Amber's primary caregiver and the girl moved back to his parents' farm with him. Coward and another daughter from a previous marriage moved to a nearby rural property to be closer to Amber.

"This is a senseless and unimaginable nightmare. A stern message is required to deter both her and others that might find themselves in acrimonious proceedings,'' said Pawlow.

"This murder was not an accidental killing. She knew her actions were guaranteed to cause death."

'She has hurt all of our family'

Amber's aunt told court she almost didn't provide a victim impact statement.

"I did not want to give the accused the satisfaction of knowing that she was successful in causing great pain. She has hurt all of our family as well as all of Amber's classmates, teachers, neighbours and an entire community," said Corinne Ward.

"The accused not only stole Amber's life but all of our dreams for her future. She replaced those dreams with nightmares."

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