New evidence prompts delay in La Loche shooter's sentencing hearing

The hearing to help determine how the La Loche shooter should be sentenced will stretch into another day next week after new evidence about an FASD diagnosis emerged in court Friday.

Defence expert witnesses say shooter has FASD; Crown wants to cross-examine

Bullet holes are seen in the front door of the La Loche Community School in La Loche, Sask., Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The hearing to help determine whether the La Loche, Sask., shooter will be sentenced as a youth or adult will stretch into another day due to an unexpected delay.

New evidence mentioned in provincial court Friday has prompted the judge to schedule another day for the hearing on Sept. 1.

"There seems to be issues arising at the last minute," said Judge Janet McIvor of the delay. 

The elongated court proceedings are only adding to the stress felt by residents of La Loche, says Mayor Robert St. Pierre.

"A lot of people, I think, want to move this process forward and move on to their healing journey," said St. Pierre. "So delaying it again on the defence just adds to that anxiety again."

The sentencing hearing has been stretched out over several weeks throughout the summer, beginning over several days in May, continuing in June and then resuming briefly Friday until the newly announced evidenced unexpectedly cut proceedings short.

La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre says people from the community just want to get the sentencing process over with. (CBC News)

On Jan. 22, 2016, the teenager stalked through a school in the northern Saskatchewan community, firing a shotgun. He killed Adam Wood, 35, and teacher's assistant Marie Janvier, 21.

He wounded seven others before eventually surrendering to police. 

Earlier in the day, he shot and killed teenage brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine at a home in the town. 

Shooter has FASD: defence witnesses

Two expert witnesses previously called by defence attorney Aaron Fox — psychiatrist Dr. Mansfield Mela and psychologist Dr. Monty Nelson — have signed a letter confirming the shooter has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), Fox told the courtroom.

That conclusion is based on the findings of a Gladue report, which outlines factors in an Indigenous offender's life that may have contributed to their criminal history.

The report also gives a judge the option to give offenders an alternative to jail time.

Part of the delay is caused by the Crown attorney, who now wants to cross-examine Mela and Nelson about the findings of the report.

Lawyers appeared by phone

Lawyers on both sides participated over the phone in the Meadow Lake, Sask., provincial courtroom. The shooter appeared over video.

McIvor, reporters and the family of Janvier were the only people in the courtroom Friday. 

Fox has argued the teenage shooter should be sentenced as a youth, not as an adult.

The Crown is asking that the teen — who was 17 at the time of the shooting, but is now 19 — be sentenced as an adult. 

The shooter cannot be named because he was a youth at the time of the crime.

Guilty plea 

In October, the teen pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder. 

The final arguments will come after almost two weeks of a sentencing hearings in which the court heard a host of victim impact statements and a statement from the defendant.

Phyllis Longobardi, the former assistant principal at the school who was shot during the rampage, laid the blame for the shooting squarely at the feet of the young man.

"He and he alone is responsible for his acts. Not bullying, not suicide," she told reporters during the sentencing hearing. "[The shooter] should not be allowed to live a few years behind bars and then be able to forget."
Four people were killed by the teenage shooter on Jan. 22, 2016, in La Loche (clockwise from top left): Marie Janvier, 21; Adam Wood, 35; Drayden Fontaine, 13; and Dayne Fontaine, 17. (Submitted to CBC/Facebook)

Later in the courtroom, the teen apologized to each one of his victims by name.

"'I am sorry I ruined your life and took your daughter away," he said to Janvier's mother, who was in court.

After his arrest, the teen told an RCMP investigator the Fontaine brothers had not been "not part of the plan."

Indigenous background a factor

Two of the adult surviving victims have said they want the teen sentenced as an adult.

The maximum youth sentence for first-degree murder is 10 years in custody. An adult receives an automatic life sentence and, under a new provision for multiple murders, can receive consecutive periods of parole ineligibility of up to 25 years for each victim.

Fox said previously that things such as growing up without a father should be factored into any sentencing decision. 
Crown prosecutor Lloyd Stang says the list of those affected by the shooting is 'endless.' (CBC)

Crown prosecutor Lloyd Stang has said given the youth's age — he turned 18 just weeks after the shooting — and the seriousness of the crimes, an adult sentence is appropriate. 

It's unclear when McIvor will make her final decision on how the teen should be sentenced.