I would like you to try a little experiment for me: start counting out loud to 104 and see how long it takes you. Midway through, I want you to pause.
Melvin Skeete Junior stabbed his girlfriend, Brittany Green, to death. He stabbed her 104 times. At some point during this horrific attack, he broke one of the knives he was using and had to switch weapons. Actually, his trial heard that the blades of two knives were found in the young girl's body.
It is difficult to contemplate that level of savagery. It is harder still, when you realize that Melvin Skeete was just 16 when he did this.
As Judge Anne Derrick said as she sentenced Skeete: "The searing tragedy of Brittany's brutal death can never be really understood. While the evidence at trial offered some insights into what caused Melvin to erupt into a blinding rage and repeatedly stab Brittany, there is much about this murder that lies deeply buried in Melvin's history, personality and choices."
Judge Derrick also noted that there had been warning signs for a very long time. At least from the age of 12, Melvin Skeete had been in trouble with the law. He racked up dozens of charges in a very short space of time.
"By 14 or 15 he was smoking marijuana 'pretty much every day,'" Judge Derrick said. "His alcohol use had increased by this time and was 'really bad.' He used a wide variety of 15 illicit street and prescription drugs. He began to use Rivotril, his pill of choice, when he was 12. Rivotril is what he took on the afternoon of December 3, 2010, mere hours before he murdered Brittany.
Rivotril is one of the benzodiazepines, a drug used as a sedative and to reduce seizures and anxiety.
Listening to the littany of crimes and failed attempts to deal with them, I was reminded of several other trips I've made to youth court in this province, and I was thinking, "Here we go again."
I have lost count of the number of youth cases I've covered in which the accused is dubbed a "frequent flyer": someone who commits so many crimes, so quickly, the system can't keep up. And the search for reasons behind this criminal behaviour is usually spotty and incomplete.
For whatever reason, we fail to recognize problems when they're small and deal with them before they blow up. It's only after multiple car crashes that we hear that maybe there's a problem with the brakes on that model of vehicle. It's only after a pretty young woman full of hope and promise is hacked to death that we hear of the problems that led to her death.
There is no question that Melvin Skeete Junior is guilty of this horrible crime. There is no doubt that he is the one responsible for his actions that night in December 2010. But there is also no question that the system failed Melvin Skeete Junior. And more importantly at this point, the system failed Brittany Green.
There needs to be a conversation about this. Not in the coffee shops and bars where all the world's problems are solved. People who can actually do something about this need to step up. They need to take more time than it takes to count to 104. The Brittany Greens of our world deserve no less.
Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.