A man who left his two daughters to die in a frozen field pleaded guilty Monday to criminal negligence, weeping as he held his bandaged, frostbitten hands to his face.

As the wind chill hovered at 58 degrees below zero, Christopher Pauchay lost his 1-year-old and 3-year-old daughters last Jan. 29 while walking to a neighbor's house. Pauchay's family said he was drunk at the time. The girls were wearing only diapers and T-shirts.

He eventually made it to the house and was taken to hospital suffering from severe frostbite and hypothermia. Eight hours later, when he was able to speak, he asked about his children.

That set off a frantic search that ended hours later when the girls were found dead in a snowy field.

Pauchay was charged with a single count of criminal negligence for causing the deaths of both children by failing "to provide protection from exposure to the elements."

The 24-year-old sobbed in his courtroom chair after pleading guilty. Pauchay, a member of the Yellow Quill First Nation, stood and nodded "yes" to the plea at what was to be the start of his trial in a makeshift courtroom.

Pauchay's lawyer, Ron Piche, said he believes his client should serve a conditional sentence in the community and will ask the judge to allow an aboriginal sentencing circle to recommend his client's fate. The application is to be heard Dec. 5 in Rose Valley.

Prosecutor Marylynne Beaton said she opposes such an arrangement and will argue that Pauchay should serve more than two years in a federal prison.

"There is part of the public out there that says, `Hang him at dawn,' because he's committed a crime and two people lost their lives," Piche said outside court. "There's the other contingent out there — I would say the majority — who say he's suffered enough.

"He made a tragic mistake. It did indeed cost the lives of his young girls, but he's paid for that. He'll pay for it for the rest of his life."

Piche said Pauchay was a doting father, feels tremendous guilt and didn't want to go through the pain of a trial.

A sister, Sheila Pauchay, said her brother has stopped drinking and is working hard to improve his life. But she expressed doubt that however the case ends will bring any closure to her family.

Pauchay's common-law wife, who publicly said she would stand by him when he was charged, did not attend court Monday. The couple had another baby girl earlier this year.

The 900-member Yellow Quill First Nation has been plagued for decades by alcohol abuse, high unemployment and a lack of housing.

Following the girls' death, Chief Robert Whitehead called for an addictions treatment center on the reserve. A plan is still in the works and in the hands of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, he said.