Calgary

Matthew de Grood trial: Families of 5 stabbing victims offer emotional tributes

Family members of the five young people killed at a Calgary house party in 2014 presented emotional tributes to their loved ones at Matthew de Grood's murder trial.

Lawrence Hong, Joshua Hunter, Kaitlin Perras, Zackariah Rathwell, Jordan Segura killed at house party

Zackariah Rathwell, 21, Lawrence Hong, 27, Kaitlin Perras, 23, ​Jordan Segura, 22, and Joshua Hunter, 23, died after Matthew de Grood, 22, stabbed them at a party in Calgary's Brentwood community in 2014. (Facebook)

Family members of the five young people stabbed to death at a Calgary house party in 2014 presented tributes so emotional that even Matthew de Grood's lawyer shed tears on Tuesday.

De Grood, 24, pleaded not guilty yesterday, on the first day of his trial, to five counts of first-degree murder, but he admitted he stabbed the victims — Lawrence Hong, 27, Joshua Hunter, 23, Kaitlin Perras, 23, Zackariah Rathwell, 21, and Jordan Segura, 22 — at a house party in Calgary's Brentwood neighbourhood in April 2014.

De Grood's legal team is expected to present a not criminally responsible defence.

On the second day of the trial, the court heard tributes which were intended to give the families of the victims an opportunity to speak, because it is unlikely there will be a sentencing hearing where victim impact statements would normally be presented.

Jordan Segura

"I knew Jordan better than anyone else," said his mother, Patty. "My heart was the first heart that loved Jordan. Jordan loved me more than he loved any other person in the world."

Her son had a tattoo that read "mom," she said.

Jordan never took his university education for granted and took it upon himself to help strangers in an effort to make the world a better place.

"I loved Jordan so much," said his father, Ricardo Segura. "I'm so proud of him; a great man he turned out to be. I am glad I was able to make him proud of me."

Older brother Jullien said he looked up to Jordan. "He was the younger one, however, the much wiser one."

Lawrence Hong

His father, mother and brother huddled around the podium, holding each other and fighting back tears.

Father Lorenzo described a passionate and dedicated son who worked hard to improve public transit in Calgary.

"Now we be left with a dream, a dream of what Lawrence would have become," he said.

"He lived his life, however short, to the fullest," said mother Marlene. "He lived his life with kindness, with friendliness."

Hong's brother spoke of the regret he feels for putting off a congratulatory text message he intended to send once his brother was finished his exams.

"He was passionate, and driven and he was building up to something," said Miles. "I never thought that there would be a tomorrow without my brother."

The family members were all wearing T-shirts with Lawrence's photo on the front and all five victims on the back.

Kaiti Perras

Two of her siblings spoke on the family's behalf with other members rising from the benches in the courtroom gallery as they spoke.

Nicky Perras described a little sister who was stubborn yet soft. A strong-willed dancer who got caught speeding more than once.

"Kaiti cared so deeply about her people and sometimes it was to a fault," said Nicky. "She was an emotional sponge.

"My sister had a very tough outer shell but was a mush of a person on the inside."

When Kaiti danced, Nicky said "time stood still," as she "lit up the stage with her grace."

"She was my sister and my best friend," said Nicky. "She will always be my best friend."

Josh Hunter

Four members of his family stood together to commemorate him; his parents, sister and grandmother.

They talked about a passionate musician who began playing drums at age 10 after his father, Barclay, took him to a Rush concert.

"We cherish every second we had with Josh," said his father. "The only thing we can do to honour him is to be strong and do good things."

Through tears, Josh's younger sister said there is a hole in her life that will never be filled. "For 20 years of my life I had the same best friend, the same mentor," said Michaela. "Now that person is gone."

She pledged to laugh and smile more, forgive more easily, give love and pay it forward in honour of her brother.

Fran Fraser, better known to the Hunter family as "Nano," told the court that she decided she also wanted to learn how to play the drums, just like her grandson. When the 80-year-old told this to Josh, he gave her a practice pad and drum sticks. "We will never be the same, but not to love and enjoy life would be an insult to Josh's memory," she said.

"There is no such thing as perfect in my eyes," said mother Kelly. "But to me, Josh was pretty damn close to the perfect son and brother."

Zackariah Rathwell​

He was described as "witty and chatty, determined and fair, helpful and grateful, loving," by his mother, Ronda-Lee. "His laugh came easily and often," she said. "He had an open mind and heart."

Both parents talked about their son's love of music and called him a "born artist."

"The thing that fed his soul and made him light up was music," said his mother. "Of the many things I miss, I miss that music the most."

Zach and Josh's album release party was the last time Bruce Rathwell saw his son alive.

"I was there when he came into this world and I was there to identify his body as his soul left this world," he said. "Hopefully one day we will meet again.

"Sleep tight, little bear."

Follow the trial live via our CBC News reporters in the courtroom

​Before court broke for the day, Justice Eric Macklin noted the families' "heartbreaking and immeasurable loss."

"You've provided the court today ... with a snapshot into what your children and your siblings have meant to you, your families and the community at large," said Macklin.

Allan Fay, de Grood's lawyer, fought back tears as he spoke to the media after the trial broke for the day.

"Any of us that are parents, just, it strikes right to the heart," said Fay. "No one could hear that and be unmoved."

De Grood showed little emotion throughout the tributes, but Fay said his client is in the process of being treated and because of his medications, is sedated.

The judge will begin hearing psychiatric evidence when the trial resumes on Wednesday. 

Two psychiatrists and a psychologist are set to testify, according to Fay, who estimates the evidence will wrap up on Thursday with closing arguments to be made next Tuesday.

The trial is being held in Calgary in the Court of Queen's Bench in front of a judge alone. Justice Eric Macklin is hearing the case.

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Matthew de Grood, shown in a court sketch on the left, and on the right in happier days, has admitted in court that he killed the five young people by stabbing them to death. (Sketch by Janice Fletcher/Photo by Canadian Press)

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