Yukon Territorial Court is faced with two options: give the 16-year-old boy who beat up and left a teenager to die back in 2014 an adult sentence or send him to an intensive rehabilitation program for youth.
The question is whether a youth sentence will hold the young man accountable for his actions, Crown prosecutor David McWhinnie told Judge Peter Chisholm on Tuesday.
Defence lawyer David Tarnow asked the judge to keep his client in the youth justice system.
The young man, who can’t be named because of his age, pleaded guilty back on Dec. 17, 2015 to manslaughter.
He admitted to beating up 17-year-old Brandy Vittrekwa and leaving her on a trail in the McIntyre subdivision on a cold December night in 2014.
Vittrekwa was later found dead, lying on her back with a broken jaw and two black eyes. Her body was swollen and bloodied. Exposure, asphyxiation and intoxication are considered the causes of her death.
The young man was partying with Vittrekwa that night. He had a “romantic interest” in her, prosecutors said. He tried to kiss her but she rebuffed him.
On Tuesday the court heard from three experts who interviewed the young man and his family and prepared reports for sentencing.
They all recommended the man receive a three-year youth sentence – the maximum available for a young offender for this crime – and be sent to a facility offering the Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision program.
The federally funded program delivers specialized programs for youth with mental health needs who have been convicted of a serious violent offence.
Half of the sentence would be served in custody with the other half allowing for a slow re-integration in the community.
Ever since he was a child the young man has had trouble controlling his temper and his anger, forensic psychologist Anne Pleydon told the court.
He has already been convicted of violent offences and was charged last February for assaulting a staff member at the young offender facility in Whitehorse.
Pleydon testified the young man was already taking advantage of all the services he could at the young offender facility in Whitehorse.
Sending him to an adult facility would have little chance of rehabilitating him, given what research has shown, she said.
It would also expose him to older, high-risk individuals, she added.
There are two facilities that offer the IRCS program the young man could go to: one in Burnaby, B.C. and one in Regina, Sask. But that would require the man’s family to move to either province.
Pleydon noted the young man was highly motivated to change.
“Hope is not lost,” she told the court, but the young man needs to deal with issues he has.
Were the young man to be released immediately, it’s extremely likely he would commit a violent act, she said.
The young man did significantly better when he was in a structured environment at the young offender facility, Pleydon said.
The court heard about the young man’s chaotic upbringing.
His mother left home when he was only 18 months old because of substance abuse.
He had to spend a year in foster care because his father and grandmother were unable to care for him.
The young man witnessed his father being struck by an aneurysm during a hunting trip, dying a short time after.
If the young man is sentenced as an adult, he will likely receive a sentence of around four years.
The court also heard from Stuart Cadwallader, who detailed how residential school prevented many First Nation men and women from learning how to be good parents. That led to the trauma being passed from generation to generation.
In the young man’s case, it means severe addiction issues.
“In the absence of his mother (the young man) was not provided for, there was no stability, respect, boundaries to develop in a healthy way,” Cadwallader said.
McWhinnie cited a case involving a 19-year-old man who beat up and left a young First Nation woman to die. He received 50 months in prison.
The young man involved here was only 15 at the time he killed Vittrekwa, which diminished his moral culpability, the prosecutor said.
He doesn’t get “pleasure” from violence but is completely desensitized to it, McWhinnie said.
After beating up Vittrekwa, the young man wondered whether she would die.
He walked away from the scene, went home, and fell asleep.
In doing so he exhibited a cruel disregard for other people, McWhinnie said.
The prosecutor told the court that rehabilitation doesn’t override other considerations such as denunciation, deterrence and the safety of the public when sentencing the young man.
With an adult sentence, the young man would get credit for his time spent behind bars while awaiting sentencing.
Given that judges usually give a credit of 1.5 days for each day of pre-trial custody, the man would likely receive an 18-month credit.
For youth sentences, however, judges are not required to consider pre-trial custody.
All the experts recommended the man get no credit so he could spend three years in the IRCS program.
The young man himself addressed the court.
“I feel horrible for what I did to Brandy Vittrekwa,” he said.
“I’m trying very hard to change my life.”
A victim impact statement written by the girl’s grandmother was read to the court.
“It is difficult to see beyond my loss,” the statement reads.
“I’ll always remember my granddaughter with her vibrant spirit.”
Judge Chisholm will give his decision on June 16.
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