People from the village of La Loche, Sask., are disappointed after final arguments in the case of a teen shooter have been likely postponed for months.
The teen, who cannot be named because of his age, has pleaded guilty to shooting and killing four people and wounding seven others in January 2016.
The adjournment was required after Crown prosecutor Lloyd Stang was appointed as a judge, and could no longer continue on the case.
La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre expressed his concern about the latest development.
“As we get further into the fall, and towards Christmas, then we’re back in January,” said St. Pierre. “So we’re that much closer to that anniversary [of the killings], And the anxieties start percolating again.”
Crown prosecutor Lloyd Stang stepped away from the sentencing hearing after he was appointed as a judge. (CBC)
Speaking in the Meadow Lake provincial courthouse, Judge Janet McIvor said the announcement caught everyone by surprise.
“On behalf of the court I feel I must apologize,” said McIvor. “This has been an exceptional circumstance.”
St. Pierre said the process has been long and drawn out.
“If we want to move on, we’ve got to get to that point,” he said. “We’re not at that point yet, and it’s going to be that much longer.”
The Crown has argued for an adult sentence in the case, saying the seriousness of the crime and the fact the killer was only a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday when he carried out the shootings mean an adult sentence is appropriate.
Defence lawyer Aaron Fox says the teen shooter has shown remorse for his actions and a youth facility would be the best place for him to get treatment. (CBC)
The defence maintains the teen should be sentenced as a youth, arguing he has shown remorse for his actions and that a youth facility would be the best place for him to get treatment.
Prosecutor Pouria Tabrizi-Reardigan will be taking over the file from Stang, who said he wants to conclude the file as soon as possible.
New dates for the proceeding will be set Sept. 11.
The sentencing hearing has been stretched out over several weeks throughout the summer, beginning in May, continuing in June and then resuming briefly last Friday, until newly revealed evidence unexpectedly cut proceedings short.
That evidence centred on a letter by two expert witnesses responding to a Gladue report — which outlines factors in an Indigenous offender’s life that may have contributed to their criminal history — and the diagnosis that the teen has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
FASD diagnosis will be argued
‘He and he alone is responsible for his acts,’ says Phyllis Longobardi, the former assistant principal at the La Loche school. She was shot during the rampage. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
On Jan. 22, 2016, the teenager in question stalked through a school in La Loche firing a shotgun. He killed teacher Adam Wood, 35, and teaching assistant Marie Janvier, 21.
He wounded seven others before eventually surrendering to police.
Earlier in the day, he shot and killed teenage brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine at a home in the village.
A central question expected at the sentencing hearing was the mental state of the teen at the time of the crimes.
On Friday, the judge was expected to hear the findings of the Gladue report.
Two expert witnesses previously called by defence attorney Aaron Fox — psychiatrist Dr. Mansfield Mela and psychologist Dr. Monty Nelson — have signed a letter saying that evidence contained in that Gladue report supports their assertion the teen suffered from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Stang, the Crown prosecutor in the case who is vacating the role, wants to cross-examine those experts on Friday morning, prior to closing arguments.
Weeks of emotional testimony
The final arguments will come after weeks of emotional testimony, in which the court heard a host of victim impact statements and a statement from the shooter himself.
Phyllis Longobardi, the former assistant principal at the school, was shot during the rampage. She laid the blame for the shooting squarely at the feet of the young man.
“He and he alone is responsible for his acts. Not bullying, not suicide,” she told reporters during the sentencing hearing.
“[The shooter] should not be allowed to live a few years behind bars and then be able to forget.”
Later in the courtroom, the teen apologized to the families of the victims.
“‘I am sorry I ruined your life and took your daughter away,” he said to Janvier’s mother, who was in court.
After his arrest, the teen told an RCMP investigator the Fontaine brothers had not been “part of the plan.”
Two of the surviving adult victims have said they want the teen sentenced as an adult.
The maximum youth sentence for first-degree murder is 10 years in custody. A youth sentenced as an adult receives an automatic life sentence with no parole possible for 10 years.
After final arguments are heard, the judge will set aside another date for the actual announcement of her decision.