Manitoba

Manitoba man jailed after judge says 'justified' self-defence went too far, killing home intruder

A Manitoba judge says a man was justified in trying to defend himself from a late-night intruder, but sentenced him to jail time for killing the intruder when he took his defence too far.

Vincent Bunn, 21, was killed by Dakota Pratt during 2016 home invasion on Birdtail Sioux First Nation

Dakota Pratt, 28, was sentenced to five years in prison on Thursday for the death of Vincent Bunn. Pratt had been charged with second-degree murder, but was found guilty of manslaughter by a jury in April. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

A Manitoba judge says a man was justified in trying to defend himself from a late-night intruder, but sentenced him to jail time for killing the intruder when he took that defence too far.

Dakota Pratt, 28, was sentenced on Thursday to five years in prison, after a jury at Brandon's Court of Queen's Bench found him guilty in April of manslaughter in the attack that killed Vincent Bunn.

Court heard Bunn, 21, entered Pratt's home on the Birdtail Sioux First Nation, about 115 kilometres northwest of Brandon, Man., in the early morning of Sept. 2, 2016. 

Pratt, who was asleep in a basement bedroom, awoke to a "feeling of being stabbed" in the head, court heard. He got up and found a knife-wielding intruder in his room and — not knowing who the person was — chased him into the hallway.

"Mr. Pratt was the victim of an unprovoked assault … and knew he was in a struggle for his own life," Court of Queen's Bench Justice Robert Cummings said in his sentencing decision.

This is not waking up to someone yelling at you. Someone's cutting his head open … that's somebody who is showing from the beginning how serious they are."​​​​​​- Defence lawyer Matt Gould

A struggle ensued and continued through the home's main floor and then outside to the deck, where Bunn was stabbed with his own knife 13 times, according to the agreed upon facts read out by Cummings at Pratt's sentencing hearing.

Court was told the final stab, to Bunn's heart, was the fatal one, and that he was kicked a number of times afterwards. 

It's unknown when exactly Pratt got Bunn's knife during the struggle. However, Pratt suffered significant blood loss and wounds to his scalp sometime during the incident. 

"He was justified in taking defensive action, but the jury has concluded that his taking the knife of Mr. Bunn and stabbing him multiple times went beyond what was necessary for self-defence," Cummings said.

Pratt's defence lawyer, Matt Gould, asked for a three-year sentence. The Crown recommended a sentence of eight years.

With time served, Pratt will spend about 2½ more years in jail.

"I was hoping for him to go home," Gould told told CBC News. With a three-year sentence, "he would have been very very close to going home. I thought it was a very understandable argument,  a very clear case ... of self-defence," Gould said.

"This is not waking up to someone yelling at you. Someone's cutting his head open … that's somebody who is showing from the beginning how serious they are."

'Bad feelings' and jealousy: Crown 

Pratt was originally charged with manslaughter in Bunn's death. A second-degree murder charge was laid following a preliminary hearing, with the Crown rejecting the self-defence argument.

At trial, the Crown told the jury there had been "bad feelings" between the two men — both of whom lived on Birdtail Sioux First Nation at the time — and jealously surrounding a relationship. Both had been drinking prior to the attack, but at separate locations on the reserve. 

The Crown asserted that Bunn was welcome in the house where the attack occurred, based on testimony by Pratt's mother-in-law, who owned the home. 

"That may be, but the impression that was left with me was that he was welcome for supper, or to visit, not to live in the house," Cummings said.

"It was Mr. Pratt who had the legal right to sleep in his … house. Mr. Bunn arrived in the dead of night, armed with a knife," the judge added. "I am unsure why the Crown had such difficulty acknowledging these facts."  

The only witness to the fight was Pratt, court was told. 

He initially denied to police on numerous occasions that a knife was used in the attack, which Cummings called a "concerted effort" to lie about what happened on the deck. 

"The Crown stated that this was clearly false, but that other parts of his statement should be accepted as true because they were against Mr. Pratt's interest," said Cummings. "I do not follow the logic of this argument." 

'Beyond what was necessary'

Court was told a considerable amount of Pratt's blood was found in his bedroom following the attack, partially corroborating his version of events in that he was acting in self-defence. 

"Logic suggests that when there is an intruder in the house that it would make good sense to ascertain the identity of the intruder and ensure that he be expelled from the house," Cummings said in his decision. 

"There is no reliable evidence to determine when Mr. Pratt had possession of the knife [but] it is certain… that he did become the aggressor and go beyond what was necessary to defend himself," he added.

That's our brother. His life is gone now because of Dakota.- Alisha Benn, Vincent Bunn's sister

Cummings said while some of the violence can be explained by the sudden nature of Bunn's initial attack on Pratt, the repeated stabbing and kicking took it too far. 

Court was told Pratt suffered various traumas over his life, including sexual and physical abuse, as well as issues with substance abuse, but showed remorse for the killing. His only prior conviction was for an assault. 

"He understood that at the end of the day, somebody died and he was responsible for that, and this really came down to why," Gould said.

Pratt has been in custody since the attack, at times in segregation for his own safety after being bullied by other inmates, court was told. 

Family glad trial is over 

Outside court, Bunn's siblings said they're glad the trial and sentencing are finally over. 

"It was very hurtful," his sister Tiffany Bunn said of the 10-day trial. "It was hard.… It was tough."

"That's our brother. His life is gone now because of Dakota," said Alisha Benn, who is also one of Vincent Bunn's sisters (her last name is spelled differently than her brother's). "I felt like the judge was giving our family a fairly hard time in sentencing and at the trial and everything."

They remember their brother as a funny, caring man.

"He was a happy person," said Benn. "He was very funny.… A great guy." 

"He was always outgoing," said Bunn's brother, Nicholas Benn.

"He could always bring a smile to your face. Here in court, they just showed his bad side, of the choices he made, [his] mistakes. But through all of that he was a really good guy." 

The siblings said they are satisfied their brother's killer will spend more time behind bars.

About the Author

Riley Laychuk is CBC's reporter based in Brandon, covering rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback: riley.laychuk@cbc.ca.