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Guilty plea in death of emaciated twin

EDMONTON - The two-year-old twin girls were the size of six-month-old babies.

When paramedics were called to the Edmonton townhouse in 2012, court heard, they were looking for a sick toddler and became confused when they could only find two wee ones bundled into infant car seats.

Then they looked more closely: skin was hanging loose on their pale little bodies, their ribs stuck out from their chests and they were covered in scabs and bruises.

One of them, known in court only as M, wasn't breathing and needed CPR. After several months on life support in hospital, and a fierce court battle, doctors took her off the machines and she died.

On Tuesday, her father pleaded guilty to manslaughter for his role in M's death. The man also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault of the surviving twin and failing to provide the necessaries of life.

The 36-year-old mumbled his pleas, then sat with his arms crossed in the prisoner's box, occasionally wiping his nose, as lawyers read out agreed facts in the case.

The Crown and defence have not settled on a recommended sentence. One is to be handed down at a later date.

The girls' mother still faces several charges, including second-degree murder. She's pleaded not guilty and court heard her husband's admissions do not apply to her culpability. A trial before a judge without a jury has been set for late May but, because she has changed lawyers several times, it's not certain if it will go ahead.

The surviving girl, as well as a healthy older brother, were placed in foster care after their parents were arrested nearly two years ago. Under Alberta's child protection laws, the family cannot be identified.

Court documents show the parents immigrated from Algeria in 2008. The husband worked night shifts as a machinist and the wife stayed at home with their three children.

The father admitted that while he didn't physically hurt the twins, he knew they were malnourished and suffering.

He "continued to leave the twins unprotected in an abusive unsafe environment wherein the twins continued to be physically abused and deprived of the necessaries of life," said one document.

There were no reasons given in court Tuesday as to why the twins were treated in such a way. More details are expected at the father's sentencing hearing.

When police and paramedics were called to the home on May 25, 2012, court heard they noticed the girls' bedroom smelled of urine. There was only a mattress on the floor with a sheet and two pillows.

Documents say M, weighing 13 pounds, was in a more emaciated state than her sister. When she got to hospital, M needed an immediate blood transfusion. She had a bed sore on her tail bone. X-rays showed she had thinning bones.

Her sister had no hair. Her skinny fingers and toes were almost white. She couldn't move her legs and hands, was unable to stand and needed help to hold a bottle of milk. She weighed 16 pounds.

Doctors said, for their age, the girls should have been between 22 and 25 pounds and must have been chronically deprived of food.

"There is no alternative hypothesis to explain the severe malnutrition and resulting inadequate growth," a doctor said in one of the court documents.

The documents further said the mother told police that the twins had been playing on the stairs, fell and hit their foreheads. Three days later, the mother noticed something wasn't right with M because the girl didn't want to eat. The woman said she called her husband at work, and he called 911 before driving home.

That September, while in custody, the parents argued in court that M should be kept on life support. They cited their Islamic beliefs and love for the girl.

A lawyer appointed to represent the child asked the court to side with her doctors, who agreed she was virtually brain dead and would never wake up. She had suffered repeated bouts of pneumonia and would need many invasive, risky medical procedures just to remain on a breathing machine.

A Court of Queen's Bench judge cast doubt on the couple's motives for wanting to keep their daughter alive and ruled she be taken off machines. The Alberta Court of Appeal sided with the lower court, ruling it was in the child's best interests to let her die.

Lawyers for the parents applied to the Supreme Court for an emergency stay, but a panel of justices rejected the bid. The girl died later that day.

The parents were allowed to attend the girl's funeral under escort and in handcuffs.

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