COURTENAY—As he looked stoically at the judge while listening to the verdict, the Comox Valley teen accused of the second-degree murder of James Denton was found guilty Wednesday morning.
While the Denton family hugged one another moments after hearing Justice R.B.T. Goepel’s verdict, a member of the accused’s family yelled, “This is joke” and immediately left the courtroom.
Vancouver-based Goepel took about an hour to read his reasons for judgment, in which he examined background facts, witness testimony, the accused’s testimony, the aftermath of the incident, the pathology report, and the validity of the self-defence argument.
Court heard throughout the trial, which concluded in June, that Denton, a 19-year-old Comox Valley resident who grew up in Port Hardy, was stabbed twice — once in the left armpit and once in the left lower back — near the entrance to G.P. Vanier Secondary School following the conclusion last July of a day-long music festival at the nearby Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds.
The accused, who was 16 at the time of the incident, cannot be named because of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The accused avoided eye contact with members of the packed gallery, and dressed in a white dress shirt and black pants with his feet in shackles, fixed his gaze on the judge during the entire verdict as he sat in the witness box.
Goepel chronologically went through the events leading to Denton’s stabbing, and mixed witness statements with the accused’s evidence.
The accused took the stand on the final day of trial, and testified he had been drinking in the woods with a friend nearby. His evidence stated he did not remember a conversation with that friend about the consequences of stabbing someone. He also said he felt scared upon meeting a group walking along Headquarters Road, which included Denton, that eventually escalated into a verbal confrontation.
“They were definitely a lot bigger and some were men — definitely not boys,” he said on the stand.
He noted Denton was about four feet in front of him when he pulled out his knife and opened it with two hands, and believed Denton was able to see it by his side.
Goepel noted he does not accept the evidence from the accused that he does not remember the conversation with his friend in the woods, along with the fact that Denton had the opportunity to see the accused pull out his knife.
“The fact that the accused pulled out his knife in view of others is not credible. The knife requires two hands to open. It’s inconceivable that none of the witnesses wouldn’t have seen it,” he said.
The judge also discredited the accused’s statement that he was scared.
“I do not accept the argument the accused was scared and frightened; it is at odds with his actions,” he added. “The accused was truly the aggressor.”
Goepel also said the Crown has proven beyond a reasonable doubt the defence of self-defence does not apply.
“The accused has committed culpable homicide when he stabbed Mr. Denton,” he stated, and also dismissed evidence that the accused was anything more than mildly intoxicated at the time of the incident.
Goepel noted he considered the cumulative effect of the evidence, and “the accused’s intent to cause bodily harm and death does not raise a reasonable doubt.”
Outside the courtroom, James’ father Dave said he was satisfied with the verdict.
“It was the right decision; it was the truth. The judge (saw) through his lies, (but) that don’t bring James back. That does nothing for me except for more suffering.”
James’ uncle George Denton said the decision helps his family with closure.
“That’s justice for James. We got justice. (The accused is) a lying little murderer, and now he’s going to pay for it,” he noted, and added he hopes for the maximum sentence.
“(The accused’s family) get to see their son once in a while. We don’t ever get to see James again. We’ve got pictures and memories, that’s it.”
Members of the accused’s family and defence lawyer Michael Mulligan were not available for comment.
Crown prosecutor Gordon Baines said despite the verdict, the case was not easy.
“Just remember at the end of the day there really are no winners in this case; the Dentons have still lost their son.”
He said Crown will seek an adult sentence based on the circumstances of the case and the actions of the accused, and added a youth sentence would not be adequate.
Goepel ordered a pre-sentence and psychological report for the sentencing hearing, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 26.