Larry Wellman lauded a hero as lawyers debate Brandon Phillips's fate

Tears flowed freely at the sentencing hearing for Brandon Phillips in St. John's Thursday as two families shared stories of heartbreak and loss.

Phillips will be sentenced to life in prison, but parole eligibility still to be determined

Brandon Phillips, 29, appears at Supreme Court in St. John's for his sentencing hearing. The Crown is asking for a 15-year parole eligibility period. The defence is asking for 10. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Tears flowed freely at the sentencing hearing for convicted murderer Brandon Phillips in St. John's Thursday as two families shared stories of heartbreak and loss.

Retired firefighter Larry Wellman was lauded as a hero by the Crown, his children and his partner as lawyers for both sides argued how much time his killer should remain behind bars before he's eligible for parole.

Phillips, 29, kept his head down for much of the hearing as witnesses cried on the stand, including his own aunt, who recalled his troubled upbringing.

A jury — some of whom showed up for the hearing — found Phillips guilty in December 2017 of second-degree murder after nearly four days of deliberations.

Wellman intervened as a masked Phillips attempted to hold up the Captain's Quarters Hotel bar on Oct. 3. 2015.

The world needs more Larry Wellmans.- Linda McBay

He was shot, and later died in hospital. McBay watched it all.

"I am no longer the same person. Every day I try to get through this living hell," McBay said of living life without her long-time partner.

Before the murder, the two had been planning on buying a home.

"I think about Larry every second of every day," she said, reflecting on Wellman's "kind, gentle soul."

"The world needs more Larry Wellmans."

McBay said she will be left with the gunman's words to her for the rest of her life.

"Brandon Phillips told me, 'Save your husband, save his life,'" McBay said as she turned to face Phillips.

Except, McBay couldn't stop what happened and that utterance will stick with her, she said.

Linda McBay provided a powerful victim impact statement to the court Thursday, as lawyers for both sides debated how long her husband's killer should remain behind bars before he's eligible for parole. (Eddy Kennedy.CBC)

Wellman's children, Heather McGrath and Chris Wellman, recalled the horror of having to tell their children that their grandfather is dead.

Emotional, Chris Wellman reflected on "wiping away little tears while trying to conceal mine."

"He stepped up when he was needed. There were many opportunities when Brandon Phillips could have done the right thing as well," Chris Wellman said.

Instead of memories of his brutal murder, McGrath said she is left to tell her children about who her father was, like his "love of the outdoors and nature documentaries, his thirst for knowledge and times he rescued people from burning buildings."

'Being a murderer's son'

Thoughts of how Phillips came to be where he is today were also discussed in the courtroom, as his family became emotional. 

Eric Squires, Phillips's father, is currently serving a life sentence for the stabbing death of Nina Walsh in 1996.

Walsh was Phillips's mother's friend, and was the mother to two girls.

"He had that stigma of being a murderer's son," said Rosanne Roche, the third witness for the defence and Phillips's aunt.

Eric Squires stabbed mother of two Nina Walsh to death in 1996. He is serving life in prison, without chance of parole. (CBC)

"When his father was around he was well-behaved because he was afraid of him. He wasn't laughing or playing or jumping around like other kids."

At one point, Phillips threw himself over the stairs to stop his father's relentless attacks on his mother, Roche said.

Squires's murderous deed hung over Phillips like a shadow in school, and he was bullied, his aunt said.

Roche said Phillips witnessed his mother being beaten by his father before Squires was arrested.

Attempts to recover from addiction

Years later, Phillips developed an addiction to opiates. His last relapse happened the day he was convicted, the court was told. 

While the Crown said the motivation for the holdup was "greed," defence lawyer Mark Gruchy said Phillips had a drug debt for which he was beaten and threatened over. 

Phillips was charged in August 2017 with possession of marijuana, heroin and fentanyl while inside Her Majesty's Penitentiary. The case is still making its way through the courts. 

However, two witnesses testified that Phillips is making strides to better himself and face his addiction.

Larry Wellman, in the foreground, enjoying his favourite spot in the Bay of Islands, John's Beach, with a cousin. (Submitted by Heather McGrath)

"He has been consistently open to new learnings, insightful about his own addiction," said Susan Green, the addictions counsellor at HMP.

Green said Phillips has participated in multiple programs, and in her opinion, is "sincere in wanting to correct some of the mistakes of his past."

Phillips also participates in — and in some cases facilitates — group discussions for the 7th Step Society, a program designed to change offender's attitudes and behaviour.

"Brandon has become a massive 7th Step advocate within HMP," volunteer Hayley Crichton said. "He's become kind of a leader in the group."

Will appeal, offers condolences

Crown prosecutor Mark Heerema pointed out that Phillips has relapsed many times, is currently facing drug charges, and used to sell drugs.

And having seen the effects a murder had on a family, Heerema said, Phillips should have known the consequences of his actions. 

Heerema is asking that Phillips serve 15 years before he's eligible for parole. The defence said 10 years would be more appropriate.

Before Phillips was led away, Justice Valerie Marshall gave him the opportunity to speak.

Phillips said he plans to appeal so he can't comment.

He turned toward the Wellman family who sat in the wooden row behind him and said: "I would like to express my sincere sympathy to the Wellman family."

Marshall will render her decision on Feb. 28. 

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story stated that Brandon Phillips's father was convicted of murdering his wife. That's incorrect. He was convicted of murdering Nina Walsh.
    Feb 22, 2018 5:13 PM NT

With files from Ariana Kelland