Christopher Cornell was sentenced to 11 and a half years in prison yesterday for shooting at an RCMP police car during a high-speed chase near Haines Junction in 2011.
The 33-year-old was found guilty of eight charges he faced at trial earlier this year.
That includes two counts of attempted murder, one of RCMP Cpl. Kim MacKellar and the second for deputy conservation officer Shane Oakley.
Oakley and MacKellar were pursuing Cornell and his then-girlfriend Jessica Johnson following a robbery at Madley’s General Store where the janitor was attacked with bear spray.
That’s when Cornell fired a rifle out the back of the SUV he was in, hitting the radio box on the dashboard of the police car.
“Particles of glass, plastic and metal fragments hit and penetrated Cpl. MacKellar in the face, eyes and body,” Judge Leigh Gower said in his decision.
“While Cpl. MacKellar was wearing a flack jacket which protected his torso, he was injured by flying pieces of metal which penetrated his exposed left shoulder.”
He was be medevaced to Vancouver and underwent multiple surgeries to remove the shrapnel from his body, including his eyes.
Johnson was originally scheduled to go on trial alongside Cornell. But on the day the trial was scheduled to begin she pleaded guilty to some of the lesser charges. She was sentenced to five years in prison.
Cornell’s sentence was based on a plea bargain between both sides.
The only question that remained was how long Cornell, who was found to be a long-term offender, would be under the watchful eye of the corrections system once he is released.
The Crown was asking for the maximum of 10 years. Defence was asking for half that.
In the end Gower sided with the Crown and imposed the maximum. After all, he said, if Cornell does well on the conditions he can apply to have it shortened some time in the future.
Gower spent much of his decision discussing Cornell’s history and his prospects for rehabilitation once he is eventually released.
He went over Cornell’s troubled childhood in detail. Cornell’s father was a heavy drinker and his mother drank when he was young, though she is now sober.
“Mr. Cornell has a limited recollection of his childhood years. He says he was bounced around with relatives and foster homes when not living with his mother. He also reported that the relatives on both sides of his family were into partying and heavy drinking. He regularly witnessed incidents of violence during these parties,” the judge said.
Cornell says he started drinking and smoking marijuana at eight or nine years old.
The judge noted Cornell’s extensive criminal record – 39 charges since 1994.
After 1994 he would get at least one criminal conviction a year with the exception of 1998 and 2000, Gower said.
Cornell’s drinking continued until he developed stomach ulcers at 18 and stopped.
He continued to do drugs: marijuana, crack cocaine and eventually heroin.
While in jail at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, Cornell admits he was not the model inmate, Gower said.
“On the other hand he also believes that he has been a victim of discrimination and has been unfairly treated by certain guards and officials at WCC. Indeed, he has served a total of 284 days in solitary confinement as a result of various internal offences,” the judge said.
Cornell has been in custody for 27 months and 27 days.
Gower noted that Cornell’s behaviour has been improving recently.
The court heard that Cornell still disputes some of the things that came out during his trial.
“Put simply, Chris is not accepting responsibility for some of the more serious offences, including the attempted murder of Cpl. MacKellar,” Gower said quoting from one report.
A psychiatric assessment of Cornell was not all negative. In fact, the doctor who completed the report expressed some optimism that he would be able to get his life back under control following the intensive treatment available in federal prison.
Dr. Shabehram Lohrasbe concluded that the “likelihood of Mr. Cornell committing a future act of violence is high unless sustained and fundamental changes occur,” Gower said.
Yet the doctor was “cautiously hopeful” that Cornell would respond to treatment in prison.
He pointed out a number of factors, including that Cornell is intelligent, will benefit from aboriginal-based treatment programs in prison and is aware that this is his last chance.
When testifying in court, the doctor said the high-intensity treatment in prison will benefit Cornell.
He testified that “I expect him to succeed” and “I will be more surprised if he re-offends,” according to the judge’s decision.
Lohrasbe said supervision once Cornell is released will help him stay on the right path. It’s something that “ideally should go on indefinitely,” he said.
Since “indefinitely” is not an option, Gower gave Cornell the maximum of 10 years supervision as part of being a long-term offender.
“If indeed Mr. Cornell does as well as defence counsel expects, it seems to me that he would have a very good chance of shortening or terminating the LTSO,” he said.
“On the other hand, if he does encounter difficulties along the way then we can expect that steps will be taken by the parole board to assist him in coming back into line before he commits a further criminal offence.”
With credit for the time he has already spent behind bars, Cornell has about eight years left in his sentence.
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