WINNIPEG — Five-year-old murder victim Phoenix Sinclair was regularly shot with a pellet gun "for fun" and was choked until she lost consciousness in a game the family called "chicken," her stepbrother told a Manitoba court Wednesday.
The 18-year-old said his father, Karl McKay, used to shoot Phoenix with his younger son's gun and tell her to "run."
"He would shoot her for the fun of it," he testified quietly. "She would cry."
Samantha Kematch and her common-law husband, McKay, are accused of leaving Phoenix to die on a cold basement floor in 2005 after months of abuse. The couple is also accused of trying to pass off another child as Phoenix to convince welfare investigators and the RCMP that their daughter was still with the family.
McKay's eldest son said he visited his dad and his girlfriend at their home in Fisher River, Man., several times before Phoenix died. The girl, who used to be "chubby all over," became "skinny" by April 2005..
In the time he visited, McKay's son said he never saw Phoenix eat or use the bathroom. When he tried to give her food, he testified, he was threatened by Kematch.
"I waited until those guys left and gave her food," he said before breaking down in tears. "They didn't help her."
At times McKay would lift Phoenix up by the neck and choke her until she blacked out, throwing her on the tile floor "twitching," his son said. It was called "chicken" and seemed unprovoked.
"She made a weird scream," he told the court. "Like someone cut off her arm. She was screaming to death."
Both Kematch and McKay are charged with first-degree murder in Phoenix's death. Her body was found in a shallow grave near the Fisher River garbage dump in March 2006.
In a videotaped interview with the RCMP that was played in court, Kematch said her daughter didn't deserve all the abuse she suffered during her short life. Phoenix was sometimes forced to eat her own vomit with her hands, Kematch told the officer.
The girl was also put into a makeshift pen in the basement when she misbehaved and sometimes went "days" without clothes because she often soiled herself, Kematch said.
She wanted to help her daughter but McKay wouldn't let her, she added.
"She'd start crying and he'd get all mad," Kematch said in the interview. "Sometimes he would just beat her for nothing."
The day before the girl died, Kematch said McKay struck Phoenix and she hit her head on the basement floor. She was left there overnight with no clothes on and wasn't breathing the next day. The couple wrapped her body in plastic garbage bags and drove her to a wooded area, where she was buried, Kematch said.
McKay then scrubbed the basement floor and painted it, she said. She threatened to go to the police months later but was scared, Kematch added.
"I feel stupid," she said. "I knew it wasn't right. She didn't deserve anything like that. I think about this every day. I think about her lots ... How I wish she was here and everything."
"I know I can't hide from this," she said. "I knew this day would come."