COURTENAY – A Comox Valley teen will spend the next four years in custody on top of time already served for the second-degree murder of James Denton, Justice R.B.T Goepel ruled Friday morning in a Courtenay courtroom.
About a year and a half after what began as a verbal altercation between two groups of friends escalated to the eventual death of 19-year-old Denton, Goepel handed down his sentencing.
The packed courtroom heard Goepel levy the maximum sentence for second-degree murder under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Goepel previously ruled that the teen, who cannot be named due to conditions of the YCJA, was guilty.
Crown prosecutor Gordon Baines noted immediately following the conclusion of the trial in June that he would seek an adult sentence. To support his request, Baines presented six aggravating facts to Goepel including that the accused brought a weapon to a public event, that he provoked the fight, and the attack with a knife was done without warning.
However, Goepel imposed the maximum sentence under the YCJA.
“What you did was inherently stupid, abhorrent and horrifying. What you did can never be undone,” said Goepel as he addressed the accused directly.
Goepel reviewed in his reasons various factors for his decision, which included a psychological report, the circumstances of the offence, legislation and the victim impact statements.
He cited “accountability is the central feature of whether to impose an adult sentence,” and based on the facts the accused did not have a prior criminal record, he expressed remorse for his actions, and his risk of reoffending is low, he did not order an adult sentence.
Goepel did not include 18 months time served by the accused, and would see him serve the four custodial years at the Victoria Youth Custody Centre, followed by three years of community supervision and conditions.
An adult sentence for second-degree murder carries an automatic life in prison, with full parole eligibility after five years, and a community supervision for life.
Denton, 19, was stabbed twice near the entrance to G.P. Vanier Secondary School following a July 2011 day-long music festival at the nearby Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds.
He was raised in Port Hardy, but moved to the Comox Valley several years ago and attended Highland Secondary School in Comox.
During his reasons for sentencing, Goepel addressed the Denton family directly.
“James was everything a parent would want a son, brother and friend to be. There are no words to capture the loss you have suffered,” he noted, and added there is nothing the justice system can do to right the wrongs family and friends have suffered.
Outside the courthouse, James’ father Dave said he wasn’t satisfied with the decision.
“There’s no justice for James. That was a slap in the face for a liar, a murderer,” he explained.
“We’re victims and all the way through … it’s like we done something wrong. We’ve never done anything wrong. We went out, we worked hard for ourselves and brought our kids up properly and they didn’t. We’re going to pay for that. Everyone here’s going to pay for that.”
Defence lawyer Michael Mulligan acknowledged the tragic nature of the case, and explained Goepel had to weigh accountability and the circumstances involved.
“You have two young men who had such a bright future and it’s such an immense tragedy. (Goepel) gave a careful, reasoned decision, and his decision was consistent with the unanimous opinions of the experts who assessed the case,” he noted. “Difficult, as the judge expressed; nothing here undoes the tragedy.”
The accused will be released from custody in January 2017, and following three years of conditional supervision, will have completed his sentence in January 2020 at 25 years of age.