Nova Scotia

Wilcox gets 4 years in shooting death of fellow soldier

Matthew Wilcox has been sentenced to four years in prison for the 2007 shooting death of a fellow Canadian soldier in Afghanistan.
Former corporal Matthew Wilcox of Glace Bay is escorted at his first court martial on charges of shooting another Nova Scotia soldier. He was sentenced to four years in prison on Friday. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

Matthew Wilcox has been sentenced to four years in prison for the shooting death of a fellow Canadian soldier in Afghanistan.   

The former reservist was found guilty Wednesday at a Halifax court martial of killing 25-year-old Cpl. Kevin Megeney of Stellarton, N.S., in a tent at Kandahar Airfield in 2007.

Louis-Vincent d'Auteuil, the court martial judge, convicted Wilcox of criminal negligence causing death and negligent performance of a military duty.

Prosecutors have described the incident as a game of quick draw that went wrong.

A lawyer for Wilcox, a 26-year-old from Glace Bay, N.S., had told the court martial trial that his client fired his weapon in self-defence as he reacted to what he thought was a threat.

It was Wilcox's second conviction. An earlier verdict was set aside last year after his lawyers argued the military jury wasn't properly balanced.

Wilcox received a 76-day credit for time already served. He is expected to serve his time at Springhill Institution, a medium-security facility in Nova Scotia.

"You always hate to see a young man under these circumstances go to jail, but one understands that there are ramifications," said David Bright, who was part of the defence team.

Wilcox 'should have known better'

The prosecutor asked for a six-year prison term, while the defence sought a one-year term. 

The military judge said Wilcox will be banned from possessing prohibited weapons, prohibited firearms or restricted firearms for the rest of his life. He is also banned from possessing other firearms until 10 years after his release from prison, a statement said.

The prosecution also sought a DNA sample from Wilcox, but the judge questioned the need for the DNA sample and did not grant the request.

The judge said Wilcox was well trained and "should have known better" than to point a loaded pistol at Megeney.

However, d'Auteuil also said senior officers at Kandahar Airfield hadn't done enough to crack down on improper handling of firearms before and during the deployment of Wilcox's unit.

"No discipline was imposed other than warning soldiers," the judge said, referring to incidents where soldiers would fail to unload the magazines from their pistols after leaving a shooting range on the base.

"All combined brought an atmosphere ... where a human being forgot to unload his weapon, pointed and fired at somebody and killed somebody. He is responsible, but the Canadian Forces must be blamed for not having the proper leadership in the circumstances."

The judge said he felt he had to apply the four-year sentence to Wilcox because it was the minimum penalty for the same offence in civilian law.

Bright said he understood the judge's decision to impose a four-year sentence, but argued that under military law it could have been a lower or a suspended sentence.

"Having regard to all of the circumstances of the offence, the failure of the chain of command to support him and basically abandoning him, that the judge should look at that and lower the sentence," he said outside court.

Military prosecutor Anthony Tamburro said the prosecution team and the Megeney family were content with the sentence.

Tamburro also said the military is taking steps to avoid similar incidents and issues with weapons mishandling.

Neither Wilcox, his family or the Megeny family offered a comment on the sentence on Friday, CBC's Blair Rhodes said.

With files from The Canadian Press