A young Winnipeg man who fatally shot a total stranger in the back for no apparent reason in April 2013 will serve four more years behind bars, a judge has ruled. 

The offender was a few months shy of his 18th birthday when he shot and killed Nigel Dixon, 20, in the city's West End. He learned his fate in Manitoba`s Court of Queen`s Bench this month after previously pleading guilty to second-degree murder.

He cannot be identified as his case falls under Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act.

Justice Colleen Suche ruled against the Crown`s bid for an adult sentence in Dixon's killing. It would have resulted in a life penalty without a chance at parole for seven years and would have seen him supervised for life upon release from prison. 

Instead, Suche ordered the offender to serve the maximum-available youth term for second-degree murder of four years in prison followed by three more of conditional supervision in the community.

He's been in custody already for 2.5 years. Suche didn't take his time on remand off his overall sentence.

Suche cited the now 20-year-old man's efforts at turning his life around as a key part of her decision.

"(His) rehabilitation appears to be well under way," she wrote in a recently-released decision.

"The evidence indicates that the extent to which he needs counselling and programing is fairly minimal; there appear to be no real risks to public safety," Suche said.

The offender had no criminal record before he brazenly shot Dixon and Dixon's step-sister. She was wounded, spent weeks in hospital, but survived.

The circumstances of the killing shocked Winnipeggers.

'G-check' confrontation 

Dixon, his step-sister and two friends were walking down a back lane between Langside and Young streets mid-afternoon on April 2, 2013 when the group encountered some Mad Cowz street gang members.

The gang members did a so-called 'G-check' on Dixon's group to see if they were associated with a rival gang, said Suche. Around this time, tensions were high between gangs in the area as they battled for control of drug turf.

Dixon's step-sister told the gangsters they had no affiliations and they were allowed to pass by, Suche said. Police have also said Dixon had no gang ties.

The offender followed the group, however, and shot Dixon up to five times in the back with a 9-mm pistol. Dixon died in hospital soon after.

The offender fled Winnipeg and wasn't arrested until months later in B.C.

Victim was 'sweet,' 'easygoing' young man

In the time since Dixon's death, his family and friends have held vigils and healing circles. In court victim impact statements, Suche said Dixon's family described him as "a happy, sweet, easygoing," person.

"They are devastated that someone so dear and so full of promise has been taken; their hearts are broken and their lives are shattered, perhaps forever," Suche said.

"Part of the role of a judge is to speak on behalf of the community … and here I speak on behalf of the community in saying to Nigel's family and friends how truly sorry I am that this terrible tragedy happened," Suche said.

Dixon's killer was taken into care of Child and Family Services at a young age, Suche said.

While he was adopted by relatives and seemed to have had a relatively stable upbringing, by age 15, the offender had dropped out of school and started associating with street gang members and using and selling marijuana.

Pre-sentencing reports did not note any history of violence, trauma, abuse or any cognitive or developmental issues, Suche said.

The judge added the offender gave a "vague" explanation for his conduct. He'd told a probation officer he'd never held a gun before and tried to give it back. He told the officer Dixon's shooting 'just happened' and that he didn't know why he opened fire, Suche said. 

The youth sentence Suche imposed fully expires in September 2023, three months before the offender's 28th birthday.