Killer pleads guilty to fatal stabbing in puppy sale gone wrong

A remorseful killer who stabbed a man he'd just met in a puppy sale gone wrong has pleaded guilty to manslaughter nearly five years after Matthew Brown died in the basement of his home.

Walker Eli Risling was charged with 2nd-degree murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter

Matthew Brown was killed in 2013 after he changed his mind about selling a puppy to a man he'd just met. (Facebook)

A remorseful killer who stabbed a man he'd just met in a puppy deal gone wrong has pleaded guilty to manslaughter nearly five years after Matthew Brown died in the basement of his home.

But for Brown's family, Walker Eli Risling's apologies ring empty.

"I've heard you say sorry," said Brown's former spouse and the mother of his young daughter. "Those words mean nothing to me and are in no way comforting."

Following the January 2013 stabbing, Risling turned himself in to police and confessed his crime.

Originally, Risling, 27, was charged and convicted by a jury of second-degree murder, but the Alberta Court of Appeal ordered a new trial earlier this year. 

After a special hearing, a judge ruled he believed the accused over defence lawyer Maggie O'Shaughnessy. The higher court then found Risling had ineffective counsel and ordered a new trial.

Walker Eli Risling pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Friday for killing Matthew Brown in 2013.

All of the details of the killing were laid out in a statement of facts read aloud at Risling's guilty plea Friday afternoon.

Brown and Risling didn't know each other but met and began partying together on the night of Jan. 4, 2013.

Throughout the night and early morning hours, there was "heavy consumption of hard liquor and drugs," according to the agreed facts.

'Time does not heal all wounds'

After accepting the guilty plea, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Beth Hughes heard from Brown's family members.

The victim left behind a partner and a baby girl who is now five years old.

"She doesn't understand how or why her daddy died, but neither do I," said Brown's spouse, Jennifer Harker, in a victim impact statement. "I want to protect her from the evil in this world but she already knows it exists."

"Time does not heal all wounds."

Brown's mother also wrote a statement, which was read by prosecutor Gord Haight.

Katherine Joslin said that even as an adult, her son — whom she described as sentimental and funny — would hold her hand in public without embarrassment. 

2nd statement not allowed in court

"This hurt will last a lifetime," wrote Joslin. "My heart aches all the time."

But Joslin had written another statement, one which didn't comply with the rules under the Criminal Code and was not allowed to be read in court. She provided a copy to CBC News after the hearing.

"I feel like the privilege of being a parent has been taken away from me, first by the hands of Walker Risling and secondly by the actions of the courts in this so-called justice system," she wrote.

Joslin went on to voice her anger that Risling's intoxication levels were taken into consideration when allowing him to plead guilty to the lesser offence of manslaughter. 

Brown's family said they are devastated that his killer will serve only two more years.

Fight over pit bull puppy

The two men were doing cocaine and drinking on the night of Jan. 4, 2013. At some point, Risling indicated he was interested in buying a pit bull puppy from Brown.

Around 5 a.m., the two men plus Risling's girlfriend drove to Brown's townhouse in the northeast community of Falconridge to pick out a puppy. The drinking and drug consumption continued.

"At some point, a drunken argument started between the accused and Brown about their earlier agreement regarding the purchase of a puppy," reads the document.

Risling went upstairs to splash water on his face. Back downstairs in the basement, the argument continued and Risling pulled a knife from his pocked, shoved Brown and stabbed him in the back.

In a panic, Risling had his girlfriend call 911 and the two ran around Brown's house looking for a piece of mail so they could give the operator the address. 

Before police and paramedics arrived, Risling fled. Brown died in hospital. 

Risling turns himself in

Though unco-operative at first, Risling's girlfriend ended up telling police exactly what happened.

By then, Risling had fled to B.C. but decided he wanted to turn himself in. He asked his mother and girlfriend to help him arrange to do that.

Risling took a bus to Calgary and walked into police headquarters on Jan. 18, 2013.

In his police interview, Risling was immediately remorseful and told investigators his didn't mean to kill Brown.

"He told police that during the stabbing he felt like he was standing outside his body watching himself do it," reads the court document.

Risling repeatedly apologized to a photo of Brown and his family that police had brought into the interview room. 

During his time behind bars since his arrest, Risling has demonstrated "exemplary" behaviour, taking part in programs and opportunities offered at the prison, said his lawyer, Andrea Serink. 

"He's somebody that wants to ... take steps to make sure that this never happens again," said Serink.

Serink and prosecutor Haight made a joint submission for a nine-year sentence, which was accepted by Hughes.

With credit for the time he's already served, Risling has two years left behind bars. 

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.