Crown seeks 15 years for woman accused of killing senior by stabbing her 68 times

A woman accused of killing an 89-year-old by stabbing her dozens of times could spend the next 15 years behind bars, but her defence lawyers argue a history of mental health issues and substance abuse means that sentence should be much lower.

WARNING: Graphic descriptions of stabbing, sexual assault

Dorothy Dykens was stabbed to death in her home on Tremblay Street in St. Boniface in May 2015. (Nina Kaczmarek/Submitted)

A woman accused of killing an 89-year-old by stabbing her dozens of times could spend the next 15 years behind bars, but her defence lawyers argue a history of mental health issues and substance abuse means that sentence should be much lower.

"I want to get this done today. I've been waiting already for almost two years," Melissa Gabriel said Monday in court. "Trying to take responsibility for my actions.… I didn't mean to kill anybody."

Gabriel, 36, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in February in the death of 89-year-old Dorothy Dykens. Despite serious mental health concerns, Gabriel was found to be criminally responsible in the case.

Police found Dykens dead in her home on Tremblay Street on May 17, 2015. She had a knife stuck in her back and an autopsy revealed a total of 68 puncture wounds. 

A dog that belonged to Dykens' neighbour and friend, Nina Kaczmarek, was also stabbed.

Kaczmarek was renting a room to Gabriel but was in the U.S. on vacation at the time of the stabbing. Part of the rental agreement dictated that Gabriel look after Kaczmarek's dog in her absence, Crown attorney Sharyl Thomas said.

The case is an example of "random, senseless, extreme violence," Thomas said, as Gabriel and Dykens were largely unknown to each other before the attack.

'Cut someone's neck'

The investigation found Gabriel had called her income assistance worker and sister several times the night of May 16. Gabriel also called 911 and claimed to have stabbed and "cut someone's neck tonight," Thomas said.

Police found a trail of blood outside a home on Tremblay Street in St. Boniface on May 17, 2015. In one case the droplets led to a porch where Nina Kaczmarek's dog was found suffering from stab wounds. (Courtney Rutherford/CBC)

When police arrived they followed droplets of blood — including a patch with pieces of white fur — that led them to Kaczmarek's injured dog near the porch.

Based on the circumstances, they did a sweep of the neighbourhood, which led them to Dykens' home. Officers found Gabriel's cellphone underneath Dykens' body.

Gabriel was wearing blood-stained clothes and had slurred speech when police found her in Kaczmarek's home on May 17, 2015. Gabriel was apparently sitting on the floor with empty alcohol bottles nearby, Thomas said. 

She was under a probation order to not consume alcohol at the time.

Gabriel was arrested and has been in custody since, where she has been responsible for completing certain tasks and regularly taken her prescription medication, one of her defence lawyers Matthew Gould said.

Court heard Gabriel has at different times been diagnosed with schizophrenia, anti-social personality disorder as well as borderline and paranoid personality traits. She has admitted to not taking prescribed medications in the past and to having hallucinations and violent outbursts.

Lengthy criminal record

Thomas argued the "extremely bizarre" 10-hour intake interview with police illustrates why Gabriel should be kept separated from the general public. 

In a record of the interview, Thomas said Gabriel boasted of being a "notorious killer" with gang ties. 

Gabriel is from Skownan First Nation, Man., and has a documented history of alcohol abuse and appeared to be intoxicated the night of the stabbing, according to Thomas. She has 43 known prior convictions that include violent offences such as robbery and multiple assaults, Thomas said. 

The Crown entered evidence from the Correctional Service of Canada showing Gabriel completed a substance abuse program in 2001 after being convicted of robbery. She was reportedly not recommended to the second phase of the treatment program due to a lack of co-operation.

'I wasn't the same'

Gould and Gabriel's other defence lawyer, Zachary Kinahan, argue there was a period between about 2001 and 2007 where Gabriel had no criminal encounters with police. 

Gabriel told the court it was during that time that she went back on medication and attended school to complete her high school education.

But in 2006, she was seriously injured after an attack by her cousin, who the defence said kicked Gabriel in the head so hard her eye popped out of its socket.

"I wasn't the same, I guess," Gabriel told court, adding she started drinking every day and had to drop out of a business administration course she was taking.

Gould added Gabriel's history of mental health and addiction issues — combined with head injuries sustained in that attack, and another incident in 2006 where Gabriel says she was sexually assaulted — need to be considered within the broader context of how she was able to stab Dykens to death that day in 2015.

'Over the top' sentence

The Crown is asking for a 15-year sentence, minus time already served, for Gabriel, citing the "pure, unmitigated violence" of the stabbing and an "enormous" danger to the public. 

Gould said the brutality of the case isn't up for question but called 15 years an "over-the-top" sentence. The defence is asking for a seven-year sentence, which they maintain falls in the middle of the common four-to-12 year range for aggravated manslaughter cases.

Rather than spend 15 years in jail, Gabriel would benefit from being strictly monitored and treated over the next few years, Gould says, adding that will improve her chances of having an effective rehabilitation.

Provincial court Judge Ryan Rolston reserved a decision Monday but is expected to hand down a sentence when court resumes on June 21.