Murray Keesic

Memorial photo of Murray Keesic (Keesic family)

A judge has sentenced a Thunder Bay man to seven years for manslaughter and 15 months in jail for robbery in the September, 2012 death of 50-year-old Murray Keesic.  

Jeffrey Tomagatick, now 31, pleaded guilty to the charges. The court heard Tomagatick beat Keesic, including punching him in the neck, and took a bunch of $20 bills from him on September 13, 2012.  Keesic was alive when an ambulance arrived, but died from his injuries in hospital the next day. The two men had been friends.    

An autopsy report said Keesic suffered six broken ribs and significant bleeding and bruising in his neck. The cause of death was a lack of oxygen to the brain due to the internal bleeding, compounded by the fractured ribs. 

More than a dozen of Keesic's loved ones were in the courtroom for the sentencing on Wednesday. His mother and three sisters submitted victim impact statements. 

Victim's sister: "I forgive you"

Shirley Keesic

In her victim impact statement, Shirley Keesic looked Jeffrey Tomagatick in the eye and said that her brother was happy, kind, generous and full of laughter. She said although Tomagatick took Keesic away from her family, she forgives him. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

One of Keesic's sisters, Shirley Keesic, read her statement directly to Tomagatick as she sat facing the prisoner's box. 

"It is hard to describe in words the loss of my brother," she said, adding that Keesic was "kind, generous [and] rarely got angry at anyone." 

"I often think of his laughter [and] sense of humour," Keesic said. "Murray's death to me means that there is going to be a hole or something missing."

Keesic went on to describe how alcohol had contributed to the loss of several loved ones in her family, including her brother, and said that needed to change for future generations. 

She said she prayed Tomagatick — who the court heard suffered from serious drug and alcohol addiction — would change his his ways.  

"You have the power, only you can do it," Keesic told the accused. "May the Great Spirit keep you and watch over you."

"I forgive you," she said. 

Keesic's mother's statement, read by assistant crown attorney Deborah Kinsella, said Tomagatick should have just asked her son for some money and Keesic would have given it to him. 

Accused apologizes to family

Defence lawyer George Joseph said the court should consider the "heartbreaking" circumstances that had led Tomagatick to crime, as well as the Gladue factors that must be taken into account when sentencing Aboriginal offenders.

The court heard Tomagatick had been abandoned by his parents, suffered abuse in foster care and fell into alcohol and drug addiction at a very young age.  

Tomagatick addressed the court before his sentencing, telling the Keesic family he was sorry for the pain and suffering he put them through. 

He said the time since Keesic's death has been one of the hardest periods of his life. "[It] wasn't easy for me to hear what I've done to a person ... [I] considered a friend."

Tomagatick said he will seek treatment to become a better person and help prevent others from making the mistakes he has made. 

"Hopefully [the] family can find it in their hearts to forgive me."

In handing down the sentence Wednesday afternoon, Justice Helen Pierce said she believed Tomagatick's remorse was sincere and hoped he would make amends to the Keesic family by turning his life around.

Pierce balanced that remorse, as well as the fact that he pleaded guilty, against Tomagatick's criminal record when deciding on the sentence.

She also gave Tomagatick one and a half times credit for the 20 months he has already served in the Thunder Bay District Jail. Once that is taken into account, Tomagatick will serve just under six years in a federal penitentiary.