Manitoba

Mother apologizes after admitting to killing toddler following night of drinking

A mother apologized in a Brandon courtroom on Wednesday after admitting to killing her son after a night of drinking. 

Mother pleaded guilty to manslaughter in September 2018

Jessica Brandon, 40, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Sept. 2018. Queen's Bench Justice Scott Abel has reserved his decision on her sentence. (Shutterstock)

A mother apologized in a Brandon courtroom on Wednesday after admitting to killing her son after a night of drinking. 

Jessica Brandon, 40, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last September, on what was supposed to be the first day of a 10-day second-degree murder trial.

"I just want to say sorry … sorry to everybody," the mother of eight children told court, through tears, at her sentencing hearing on Wednesday. "I didn't mean for my choices to get me to where I am standing right now and my family knows who I am as a person.

"I am a good, caring, loving mother." 

Brandon was arrested by RCMP in April 2016, 14 months after her two-year-old son, Draze Brandon-Catcheway, died. 

Court heard Draze died after an incident at the family's home on the Waywayseecappo First Nation, which is located about 280 kilometres west of Winnipeg, near Russell, Man., on Jan. 31, 2015. 

Crown prosecutor Ron Toews told court that police were called by family members, who requested officers go to her home to check on her family. 

Toews said an officer with the Dakota Ojibway Police Service, now known as the Manitoba First Nations Police Service, arrived and found Draze unresponsive on the couch making gurgling sounds. 

Waywayseecappo First Nation is located about 280 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, near Russell, Man. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

The boy was rushed to hospital in Russell and later by STARS Air Ambulance to Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre, where he went into cardiac arrest 15 hours later and died. 

Child's injuries consistent with car crash 

Toews said Brandon provided a number of different explanations for Draze's injuries, including that he had been jumping on the bed when he fell and hit his head. However, a medical examiner found that explanation was inconsistent with Draze's injuries. 

"The autopsy confirmed that Draze had died from an acute blunt force head injury," Toews said, adding that Draze suffered multiple blows to the head, hemorrhaging and brain damage, among other injuries. 

"The injuries to the brain were acceleration-deceleration injures, more commonly found in a person involved in a major motor vehicle accident," Toews said, of the medical examiner's report. 

Court was told Brandon was having trouble coping with having her children returned to her care from Child and Family Services and had taken five shots of hard liquor, as well as Temazepam and Xanax, after putting the kids to bed.

 "She then passed out and woke to find Draze jumping around and refusing to listen to her," Toews said. "She ... immediately grabbed Draze and threw him onto the floor. Draze immediately became unresponsive. 

"She remembers very little after that," Toews added. 

He said while she has now admitted her guilt, her actions that night didn't show remorse. 

"After the assault, when most people would have seen how badly injured their own child was, would have reflexively, I would suggest, called an ambulance, a neighbour, her own mother, an on-call social worker," he said.

"When someone else summoned help for her … instead of using her time to help her son, the evidence gathered at the scene indicates that she used her time to cover her tracks, she hid the liquor bottle that she had been consuming from, she concocted a fictitious story to tell [police]," Toews said. 

'Sad day' 

Brandon's defence lawyer, Norm Sims, told court that she will continue to relive that night for the rest of her life.

"This is a sad case and a sad day," Sims told court on Wednesday. "It's sad because a little boy … died, unfortunately, at the hands of his mother.

"The mother's life has also been changed forever," he added. "She will continue to relive what has happened regardless of what happens here today." 

However, he also suggested West Region Child and Family Services is also partially to blame. 

"The agency failed to provide the accused, this mother, with the supports she needed to safely care for her children," he said. "The agency failed her and it failed Draze." 

Sims said the agency didn't participate in probation or pre-sentence reports, so it's not known what supports the agency did or did not provide to Brandon.

"It doesn't make any sense," he said. 

He said Brandon has suffered with addictions her entire life, and that her family also has a history of addictions. He said she had sought residential treatment and attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in the past.  

"I'm the one that has to live with what happened," Brandon told court.

Prison term sought 

The Crown and defence jointly recommended a sentence of seven to ten years in prison for Brandon.However Toews suggested the sentence be closer to ten years while Sims asked for closer to seven. 

"This is not a one-punch-hits-his-head-on-the-pavement type of manslaughter," said Toews. "The victim was a child, [who] was in a position of dependency to the perpetrator, Ms. Brandon."

Queen's Bench Justice Scott Abel has reserved his decision on the sentence.

About the Author

Riley Laychuk

CBC Manitoba reporter

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