CFL player survived 'fire of Detroit' only to be murdered in Calgary, mother says at sentencing hearing

Calgary Stampeder Mylan Hicks was a dream chaser with grit, a young man who never uttered a disrespectful word to his family and was the love of his mother's life, a judge heard at the sentencing hearing for the man who murdered the young football player.

Nelson Lugela was convicted of 2nd-degree murder for killing Mylan Hicks

Nelson Tony Lugela, left, was found guilty in March of second-degree murder in the death of Mylan Hicks, 23. The football player was fatally shot in 2016. (Crime Stoppers/Calgary Stampeders)

Calgary Stampeder Mylan Hicks was a dream chaser with grit, a young man who never uttered a disrespectful word to his family and was the love of his mother's life. 

Hicks, a Detroit native, was in Canada to play football, hoping it would be a step on his path to the NFL. 

On Thursday, Renee Hill delivered a fiery victim impact statement at the sentencing hearing for her son's killer, Nelson Lugela, who was convicted of second-degree murder earlier this year.

Lugela and Hicks never met. They never spoke or fought. 

The night he was killed, Hicks was celebrating a Saturday night win with his teammates at a Calgary nightclub. After the bar closed and patrons spilled outside, Lugela opened fire. Hicks was shot twice as he ran away from the gunshots.

Hill questioned how Hicks could, for 23 years, "safely walk through the fire of Detroit, Michigan, and don't get burned and then come here and don't last a year."

Renee Hill shows off her son's photos and awards after the sentencing for his killer. (Meghan Grant/CBC)

At one point, Hicks was signed by the NFL's San Francisco 49ers. He stood on the field in uniform so close to his goal but was ultimately cut by the team.

Despite his disappointment and after a pep talk from his mother, Hicks left his house to run stairs and keep fighting for his dream, telling Hill, "I'm going to grind, Ma."

Hill says she is tormented by the thought that her athletic son could have and wanted to be a baseball player but she encouraged him to play football.

"Would you have lost your life chasing that dream?" she wondered aloud. "I don't know."

"Mylan chose right, he just ran into wrong." 

Teammates testified

On the night of Sept. 24, 2016, at least a dozen members of the team were out at the Marquee Nightclub celebrating their win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Earlier in the night, Lugela and his friends picked a fight with some of the players, but Hicks was nowhere near the scuffle. 

When the nightclub closed and patrons gathered outside, tensions ramped up again. Lugela opened fire. As Hicks ran away from the gunshots, he was hit twice.

During the trial, a parade of Stamps players testified about the moments after the gunfire, realizing their teammate had been shot and the efforts to save his life.

One of the two men who was with Lugela the night of the murder testified as a Crown witness, telling the judge that in the moments after the shooting, as the trio drove away from the scene, Lugela was holding a gun and admitted he had shot the victim. 

Life sentence

A second-degree murder conviction comes with an automatic life sentence. Court of Queen's Bench Justice Keith Yamauchi has to decide how long Lugela must wait for parole eligibility. 

Prosecutor Gord Haight has argued Lugela should wait 17 to 19 years before he is allowed to seek release.

Defence lawyer Alain Hepner has proposed a 14 year term, arguing his client's cognitive impairments should be taken into consideration. It's not yet known when Yamauchi will hand down the sentence.

No matter the time Lugela spends behind bars, Hill says she will live the rest of her life crippled by the thought that she couldn't protect her son. 

Hill told Lugela that Hicks was "someone you did not know but if you had took the time to know him, you would have loved him."

"This was my son, his dad's son, for 23 years — that's all we had him for, he was on loan." 

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.