A Yukon Supreme Court judge will wait until Thursday to sentence a 23-year-old woman for her role in a high-speed chase that ended with an injured RCMP officer.
Lawyers were in court this week arguing what sentence Jessica Johnson should receive for her role in the 2011 chase that injured Haines Junction RCMP Cpl. Kim MacKellar and in the robbery of Madley’s General Store where the custodian, Frank Parent, was punched and bear sprayed.
Johnson was originally scheduled to go on trial earlier this year alongside Christopher Cornell, her boyfriend at the time. The pair each faced multiple charges, including two counts of attempted murder.
Right before testimony was scheduled to begin, Johnson pleaded guilty to four lesser charges and avoided going to trial.
The jury found Cornell guilty of all eight charges he was facing. He is scheduled to be sentenced in the new year.
In court this week, prosecutor Keith Parkkari argued a seven-year sentence in a federal penitentiary would be appropriate, while Johnson’s lawyer, Bibhas Vaze, asked for five years – the minimum length of time available.
Johnson was involved in the robbery at Madley’s General Store, Parkkari said, summarizing an agreed statement of facts. She was also behind the wheel when she and Cornell fled down the Alaska Highway, pursued by MacKellar and conservation officer Shane Oakley,
She did not fire the shot out of the back of the vehicle that resulted in MacKellar’s injuries, Parkkari continued. She does not know the intent of the shot that was fired.
During Cornell’s trial the court heard that the officer ended up with metal fragments in his eyes, face and shoulder and required multiple surgeries.
Johnson stood in court and apologized to the people she hurt: MacKellar, Parent, Oakley and the people of Haines Junction.
She said she was “ashamed” and “not a violent person.”
Maybe if she had been sober she would have been able to get herself out of the situation, she told the court. Instead, she was high on drugs at the time.
The court heard that Johnson has a very limited criminal record and no convictions for violent crimes.
“At the time I didn’t know anyone had been shot,” she said, adding that she sometimes lies awake thinking about what happened to him.
She called the officer “amazing” for staying in the community after what happened to him.
Johnson said she takes responsibility for her role in what happened and is working on rebuilding relationships.
Justice Leigh Gower agreed to make copies of Johnson’s statement and send them to Parent, MacKellar and Oakley.
The Crown argued that a seven-year sentence takes into account the serious nature of the crime, Johnson’s young age and the possibility of rehabilitation in the future.
Vaze called his client’s situation “an unfortunate case of a young aboriginal woman forced to survive.”
She was born into an unstable environment with excessive drug use, her lawyer said. She has been drinking since a young age and began using heroin at 17.
“Since her early teens, she has been essentially caring for herself,” he said. She was also living with undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Vaze said she was open to manipulation and easily influenced by others.
He argued she needs to go to prison to get the appropriate programming, but not for too long so that she doesn’t lose hope and become discouraged about the future.
Part of the hearing revolved around how much credit Johnson should receive for the time she has already spent behind bars.
Johnson was in and out of custody after her initial arrest.
In November of last year, she was caught attempting to toss drugs to Cornell while the two were in court together. She was promptly arrested and later sentenced to 10 months.
In total she has about 14.5 months of time in custody to be considered in this case, the lawyers agreed.
The Crown argued there is little reason for her to receive more than 1:1 credit for that time, while Vaze asked the judge to consider a 1:1.5 ratio.
After questions from the judge, Johnson insisted she is no longer with Cornell. But Parkkari told the court there has been some suggestion by the Whitehorse Correctional Centre that the two were talking while he was behind bars.
She also legally changed her name to Cornell.
Johnson told the judge as soon as she gets enough money she plans to change it back.
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