The man convicted earlier this month in the death of a 12-year-old B.C. girl is among the worst offenders, a judge told him during his sentencing hearing.

Garry Handlen was found guilty of first-degree murder, a charge that carries an automatic life sentence. He could be eligible for parole in 15 years through the faint hope clause.

On Monday, a B.C. Supreme Court justice heard emotional testimony from the family of his victim, Monica Jack, before addressing Handlen.

"This particular crime is among the worst of its kind, and you are among the worst of offenders," Justice Austin Cullen said.

He told the convicted killer he demonstrated that he is a sexual predator who preys on the vulnerable.

"You ripped away the life of a young girl. You deprived her family of a daughter," Cullen said.

"Her disappearance and death brought only misery to those who knew her best and loved her most."

'She never got the chance to grow up'

For the rest of the year that Monica went missing, the 12-year-old's desk at school was left untouched.

Her sister, who was seven when the girl disappeared, grew up knowing she was gone.

Her family never gave up hope that Monica's body would be found, her uncle wrote. They held out hope for nearly two decades. Then, her uncle said in a victim impact statement read by his daughter on Monday, that hope was shattered.

Monica's body was found in Merritt, B.C. in 1995, 17 years after she disappeared while riding her bike along a highway.

Eleven days after the guilty verdict, the court heard submissions from those who knew Monica, including her family, ahead of Handlen's sentencing.

"She never got the chance to grow up," her sister Heather read through sobs Monday.

Monica's eldest sister, Carol, recalled tenderly caring for the girl she described as "an old soul."

She too described holding on to the hope that Monica would one day come home, and said that when she'd learned of her sister's death, the news "didn't kill me, but something inside me died that day."

Carol said she attempted suicide at one point and was diagnosed with clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.

"I still cry every day… I loved my baby sister, and I miss her so, so much," she said.

Her brother, Glen, cried and his hands shook as he read his statement: "For 40 years, I felt responsible for not being able to protect Monica. I wish we had more time."

Monica's mother said she is also still grieving.

"I find it difficult to function," Madeline Lanaro told the court, adding that at times she starts crying spontaneously.

After the hearing, she spoke to media gathered outside the courthouse, saying she'd always hoped they'd see the day when her daughter's killer was locked up for the rest of his life.

She sang part of a song she'd written for her young daughter: "For she's my baby daughter, I love her – yes I do. There's not a sweeter one that can be found."

Madeline said the death was something she can't get over.

"It's going to always be there in our hearts forever, as long as we live. Each one of us," she said.

Elizabeth Kraus, who was 11 when her sister went missing, said she remembers Monica as beautiful, sweet, kind and good at everything.

"Today is a fine day to celebrate her final victory," she told reporters.

A statement from Monica's Grade 7 teacher, read by the Crown, described how they left her things in the classroom until the end of the school year.

"I do not think we will ever understand the devastating impact of Monica's death," the statement read.

And Chief Aaron Sumexheltza, of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, read a statement on behalf of the community. He said Monica was loved, vibrant, and a friend to many.

Fear has been ingrained into children there for three generations, he told the court.


Charge in another death dismissed

In addition to sentencing Handlen for his role in Monica's death, the judge also addressed another case in which the 71-year-old was accused.

He faced a first-degree murder charge in the death of 11-year-old Kathryn Mary Herbert, in Abbotsford in 1975. Handlen pleaded not guilty.

As with Monica's death, Handlen had confessed to her killing in a Mr. Big sting – a tactic once used by the RCMP to extract confessions by convincing suspects they were talking to a crime boss.

The second case was previously covered by a publication ban. On Monday, the judge dismissed the charge.

The Crown is not proceeding with the case because the confession which was permitted in the first case was ruled inadmissible in Kathryn's.

"As a result, the Crown was left with little other evidence linking the offender to that offence," said Dan McLaughlin with the BC Prosecution Service.

The girl's mother passed away in 2016, but said previously that she'd made a vow to her daughter.

"I promised her at her graveside I would never give up," Shari Greer said at a news conference in 2014.

A private investigator who looked into the case said she was unwavering in her search for answers.

"She was extremely determined in finding out who killed her daughter and to see that he comes to justice," Lee Hanlon said.

With files from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber