WARNING: This story contains graphic content. Reader discretion is advised.
An Okanagan man who brutally killed a Belgian tourist north of Boston Bar last summer won’t be eligible for parole until 2042, but a lack of motive means he could remain in prison for much longer.
Sean McKenzie, 28, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in September for his role in killing 28-year-old Amelie Christelle Sakkalis, a tourist backpacking through Canada. She was hitchhiking alone from Penticton before she was killed. The two did not know each other.
Sakkalis’s body was found near Highway 1, north of Boston Bar, on Aug. 22, 2018 at approximately 7:45 p.m. McKenzie, then 27, was arrested and charged a few weeks into the homicide investigation.
In Supreme Court in New Westminster Tuesday, McKenzie chose not to address Sakkalis’ six family members who travelled from Belgium for the sentencing hearing.
“It’s not a lack of want, I feel like my counsel covered it quite well,” he told Justice Martha M. Devlin. “It’s difficult to get these words out, it’s the actual saying of these things.”
The court heard that McKenzie picked Sakkalis up in Hedley the afternoon she was killed, while he was on his way to Vancouver to fly to Burns Lake for a job as a cook on a work site. CCTV footage in Princeton sometime after 2 p.m. showed the pair in McKenzie’s white Astro van – Sakkalis looking unharmed in the passenger seat.
But near Manning Park, McKenzie pulled off Highway 3 to look for a phone charger. It was then that he began to violentally attack the young traveller.
Over the span of two hours, he struck Sakkalis with the butt of a hunting knife, bound her with electrical tape and then sexually assaulted her before getting back onto the highway to head for Hope. According to the agreed statement of facts, Sakkalis asked why McKenzie was assaulting her a number of times, only for him to answer “because.”
The court heard that Sakkalis tried to escape – at one point freeing her hands from the tape – only to be bound again. McKenzie drove 12 kilometres north of Boston Bar, to a heavily forested area down an unpaved dirt road. It was then that he took her out of his van, stabbed her 42 times and left her to die.
Crown said that McKenzie was unprovoked when he attacked Sakkalis, calling his gruesome actions sadistic, predatory and “exceptionally brutal.”
McKenzie, who had no criminal record prior to killing, threw Sakkalis’s belongings in a nearby pile of dirt and drove away, the court heard. Five minutes later, he called his best friend and lied that he had woken up and found her dead. He then called 911 but pretended that that he was also a victim.
McKenzie was initially arrested at the scene of the killing, but was released the next day. On Sept. 14, upon being re-arrested, he confessed to police.
McKenzie’s lawyer, speaking on his behalf, told the court he feels shame for his actions and knows “he has taken from her [Amelie’s] family someone very precious and he acknowledges that and knows he cannot make that right.”
He added that McKenzie chose to call 911, despite initially lying about what had happened, and later confessed after hearing how tired the investigators were as they worked to solve the case.
But while McKenzie’s guilty plea saved the Sakkalis family from a lengthy trial, which would likely include brutal details about what took place that day, the family received no closure as to why he did what he did.
“I have asked him a number of times,” his lawyer said, adding that his client’s lack of motive will likely inhibit any chance of parole in the future.
Justice Devlin agreed with a joint submission from Crown counsel and defense, which asked for life imprisonment – the mandatory sentence – and no parole for 23 years. Devlin also ordered McKenzie be placed on the federal sex offender registry.
‘I was terrified every time she went travelling alone’
The court heard from both Sakkalis’ mother and sister who read victim impact statements reflecting on who she was and the struggles they have faced since her untimely death.
“My entire life is in shambles,” Justine Sakkalis, the victim’s sister, told the court, adding that she last saw her sister three years ago and had been hoping to see her soon to share stories of their separate travels.
“We didn’t write much because of the time difference,” she said. “We wanted to speak in person once she’d be back.”
Since her sister’s death, Justine said she’s struggled with insomnia, constant anxiousness and a fear of travelling – that her life has been put on “standby.”
“Family is very important to me,” she said. “My fiance is an only child and now I am, as well. Our child or children will never have the chance to meet their dear aunt and will never be able to play with cousins.”
Through a thick, French accent, Sakkalis’ mother, Anne Delory, told the court how her daughter had a passion for travelling, discovering different cultures and cared about global warming and injustice against women and migrants.
“I was terrified every time she went travelling alone, but when you love your children you let them live their dreams” she said through tears. “She had a special dream to go to Canada to discover your beautiful country for herself.”
While Sakkalis will be remembered for her love of gardening and belief that everyone should feel free, her mother told the court their family “struggles to survive each day” and she still finds herself facing the difficult realization her daughter is gone. Her daily reminder is the memorial for Sakkalis in a flowerbed in their family garden.
“I’m 58 years old and I’m not ashamed that every night when I go to sleep, I kiss a little box where there is some of her ashes,” she said. “I hold a little Canadian teddy bear very tightly in my arms to try to fall asleep [with] tears in my eyes.”