The grieving parents of a young Toronto woman who disappeared five years ago said a guilty verdict of first-degree murder Saturday for two men accused of killing their daughter brought justice but little joy.
It was the second such conviction for Dellen Millard and Mark Smich, who are serving life sentences for the 2013 murder of a Hamilton man, a fact the jury at their latest trial didn’t hear.
Tears were shed and quiet cheers let out in a downtown Toronto courtroom as the pair was found guilty in the death of 23-year-old Laura Babcock, whose body has not been found. Millard and Smich pleaded not guilty in the case.
Clayton Babcock, who attended every day of the trial with his wife, said the verdict, while welcome, did not ease his family’s suffering.
“We’ve sat through a six-week funeral for our daughter Laura, and you all know what a wonderful woman she was, as well as all the pains and struggles that she faced. You also know about the evil beings that took her life, and if society’s lucky, we will not see them again on the streets,” he said outside court as his wife held on to him.
“Today’s verdict really brings us little joy. The loss of Laura is no easier today than when it was realized five years ago.”
Crown prosecutor Jill Cameron thanked the jury for their verdict.
“Today was about justice for Laura and justice was served,” she said. “We just feel so badly that (the Babcocks) had to go through this and that Laura had to suffer at the hands of these two.”
Millard, 32, of Toronto, and Smich, 30, of Oakville, Ont., were automatically sentenced to life in prison for Laura Babcock’s death. A sentencing hearing to sort out the details of their parole eligibility is expected in the new year.
The jury that found them guilty didn’t know that the pair were convicted last year of killing Tim Bosma, a 32-year-old man who disappeared in May 2013 while trying to sell his pickup truck, and burning his body in the same animal incinerator the Crown said was used to dispose of Babcock’s body.
The jury was also kept in the dark about Millard facing another first-degree murder charge, this one in the 2012 death of his father, Wayne Millard, which was initially deemed a suicide. That trial is scheduled for March 2018.
In the Babcock case, the Crown alleged the woman was killed in July 2012 because she had become the odd one out in a love triangle with Dellen Millard and his girlfriend.
Prosecutors said Millard and Smich planned the murder for months and covered up their crime by burning Babcock’s body in the animal incinerator that was later found on Millard’s farm.
Babcock has not been heard from since July 2012. Earlier that year, she became involved in a feud with Millard’s girlfriend _ Christina Noudga.
The animosity between the two women, who had been sleeping with Millard at the same time, hit its zenith in mid-April. That’s when Millard sent a text to Noudga that the Crown referred to time and again.
“First I’m going to hurt her. Then I’ll make her leave,” read his message. “I will remove her from our lives.”
Millard told court he didn’t care much about his girlfriend, or her feud with Babcock. He said he was sleeping with other women at the time, and his messages to Noudga were simply an attempt to placate a jealous girlfriend.
Court heard that Babcock’s life began to unravel in the months leading up to her disappearance. Her friends testified that she was using cocaine and struggled with her mental health, but was hopeful about a recent diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.
She fell out with her family and became transient, bouncing from place to place with her small dog. She couldn’t find work and in June 2012 began working as an escort.
A former boyfriend, Shawn Lerner, told court he put her up in a hotel in late June for two nights and lent her his iPad to help her search for apartments.
On June 30, Babcock and Millard exchanged text messages, according to cellphone data police found on Millard’s computers. Two days later, Millard purchased a gun from Matthew Ward-Jackson, who testified at trial.
Cellphone data shows that on July 3, the Babcock and Millard met near a subway station around 6:30 p.m. Both their cellphones then moved to Millard’s house, where Smich’s phone pinged off a nearby cell tower.
Babcock’s last outgoing call was made to voicemail at 7:03 p.m. that same day. Her phone has not been found.
On July 4, Millard sent Smich a photograph of a large object wrapped in a blue tarp. The Crown said it was Babcock’s body.
The iPad she borrowed from Lerner was connected to Millard’s computer on July 4. Police later found the iPad and Babcock’s red bag at Smich’s house.
On July 5, the incinerator, which Millard referred to as the “BBQ,” arrived at his hangar at the Region of Waterloo International Airport.
On July 23 Millard wrote to Smich: “bbq has run its warm up, it’s ready for meat.”
Court saw photos of a smiling Smich in front of the incinerator that night taken with Millard’s phone.
They also saw a photograph of objects inside the incinerator that two expert witnesses said were bones. However, due to the poor quality of the photo, they couldn’t say if they were human or animal bones.
In the early hours of July 24, a note was created on Smich’s iPad. It read:
“The bitch started off all skin and bone,
Now the bitch lay on some ash stone,
Last time I saw her was outside the home,
And if u go swimming u can find her phone”
Court also saw video of the rap by Smich, taken with Millard’s phone. Two witnesses said Smich performed the same song for them. Smich told them it wasn’t just a rap, but was, in fact, true.
After the guilty verdict came down, Millard, who represented himself at trial, swivelled in his chair and stared at Babcock’s mother and shook his head.
Linda Babcock smiled.