'You could have loved him, too,' says mother of Siksika man shot on rural road as killer gets 4-year sentence
Kody Giffen pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Kristian Ayoungman's death, while brother Brandon to face trial
That means "I love you" in Blackfoot and it was Melody Ayoungman's final message to her son Kristian Ayoungman as she delivered a powerful victim impact statement in a Calgary courtroom on Tuesday.
Kristian, a popular 24-year-old hockey player and champion pow wow dancer from the Siksika First Nation in southern Alberta, was killed on March 17, 2019.
Kody Giffen pleaded guilty to manslaughter last August and on Tuesday he was sentenced to four years in prison after Court of Queen's Bench Justice Suzanne Bensler accepted the joint position from prosecutor Ron Simenik and defence lawyer Shelley Moore.
"Kody, you are the reason my son is not here today," said Melody. "He is gone — my boy, my baby, my first born, precious child."
Kody's older brother, Brandon Giffen, goes on trial on a charge of first-degree murder later this year.
The night he was fatally shot, Kristian and his friends were fleeing the Giffen brothers who'd been chasing them down a rural highway between Strathmore and Siksika.
At a Strathmore pub earlier in the evening, Ayoungmen sold a package of cigarettes to Kody Giffen, who became enraged because a couple were missing from the pack.
Simenik described the incident as going "further than anyone could have imagined."
The night of the killing, after the two groups fought in the pub parking lot over the package of cigarettes, Kody fetched his older brother who was at a nearby apartment.
The details of Kody's involvement in the killing come from an agreed statement of facts (ASF) but those admissions are not considered evidence against Brandon and none of the allegations in the ASF are proven against the elder Giffen.
Previous stories have described the killing as an act of racism against the victim. However, the Giffen brothers are Indigenous themselves. A Gladue report — which examines an Indigenous offender's background — was prepared ahead of Kody's sentencing hearing.
A single shot
Brandon grabbed a hunting rifle and joined his brother as the two chased Ayoungman and his friends, who were in a Dodge truck.
Kody was driving with Brandon in the passenger seat and friends were in the back.
According to the facts against Kody, Brandon told his younger brother to follow the victim.
Breanna Crawler was driving with Ayoungman in the back seat. She was driving south on Highway 817, headed home when the Giffen brothers pulled over.
Brandon got out, according to the agreed statement of facts, raised his rifle and fired a single shot.
The bullet tore through the tailgate of the Dodge, into the cabin, and struck Ayoungman.
'I'm so sorry'
After the shooting, Kody dropped his friends and brother off and began driving home to Calgary with his girlfriend.
RCMP stopped him en route and he immediately admitted his involvement.
When given the chance to address the court, Kody expressed remorse.
"I am very sorry for all of my actions and I'm beyond sorry for any pain," said Kody. "I'm so sorry, I'm sorry."
Bensler said she accepted that Kody was truly remorseful but acknowledged that "no punishment can ever repay the loss of a life."
Melody Ayoungman understands the judge's sentiment — she will live with her grief for the rest of her life and says being raised the Blackfoot way to treat others the way you want to be treated makes her son's senseless killing especially painful.
"How could you not like my boy," she asked Kody.
"If you had let yourself get to know him … you could have loved him too, like everyone else."