Windsor

Judge hands down 7-year sentence for Windsor man who killed best friend during game of Russian Roulette

A "tragic and senseless death" caused during a game of Russian Roulette prompted a seven-year jail sentence for a Windsor man who pulled the trigger, killing his best friend.

William Green, 53 at the time of the offence, was initially charged with first-degree murder

The shooting that claimed the life of Michael Holmberg took place 924 Elsmere Avenue in March 2017. (Derek Spalding/CBC)

A Windsor man who killed his best friend in a game of Russian Roulette has been sentenced to seven years in prison in what the judge called a "tragic and senseless" death.

In his decision, Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas called the circumstances of this case "unique" because of the level of intoxication, the close friendship between William Green and the victim and use of a firearm in a "senseless and tragic game."

The Crown asked for a sentence of seven to nine years for Green, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in October. His defence requested a five-year sentence, realizing the minimum for a manslaughter conviction is four years because it involves a gun. 

"William Green was intoxicated, but nonetheless responsible for this death," said Thomas.

It was back on March 17, 2017, which was St. Patrick's Day, Green and Michael Holmberg — known as Mickey —  were drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana while playing Russian Roulette. Police were called just after midnight on March 18, shortly after the shooting happened.

"Whatever he gets for murdering my brother, we got life without him."​​​​​​- Tom Chaplin, victim's brother

According to an agreed statement of facts read in court in October, the two took turns playing Russian Roulette for hours with one round of ammunition. At some point the Holmberg didn't spin the chamber and Green said "gimme that," the court heard.

Green took the gun away from the victim and pulled the trigger himself, shooting his friend.

Holmberg, just shy of his 60th birthday, was taken to hospital where he died of his injuries.

Michael Holmberg, 59, was killed by his friend William Green in 2017 when the two were playing Russian Roulette with a loaded gun. (Dignity Memorial)

During a sentencing hearing in Superior Court on Wednesday, Holmberg's family described his unmatched sense of humour and said he had a "beautiful soul."

"He always encouraged us and tried to make us laugh. He was the quirky glue that bridged strained relationships and would help anyone for a case of beer," said Cassandra Chaplin, Holmberg's niece.

Several family members submitted victim impact statements to the court for the judge to consider before sentencing Green.

"I have never-ending anxiety and depression. I feel angry and sick on the inside every day,"  Tom Chaplin, the victim's brother, said in a statement read by the Crown.

"Whatever he gets for murdering my brother, we got life without him," he added.

"I'm sorry for the pain and heartache for all that knew Mickey."​​​​​- William Green

Initially, Green, 58, was charged with second-degree murder before pleading guilty to manslaughter in October. The Crown said due to the level of intoxication, he was unable to commit the offence of murder.

A neighbour told the court, through a letter read by the defence, that she would often see the two best friends on Green's porch drinking alcohol, working on his car.

The victim also brought the prohibited gun to Green's home on Elsmere Avenue that night with one round of ammunition.

"Uncle Mickey may not have been a saint, but he sure as hell did not deserve to die," said Cassandra in her victim impact statement.

Several of Green's family members, including his three sisters and children, wrote letters to the court pleading for leniency in the sentencing.

Green also spoke in court before the judge determined his fate.

"I'm sorry for the pain and heartache for all that knew Mickey," Green said, who said Holmberg was like his brother. "There's no punishment worse than what I live with day in and day out."

Green called 911 himself after the shooting happened at his home. He spent 21 days in jail before being released on bail under house arrest, where he spent the last four years and 10 months.

Under those conditions, Green was able to leave his home for any reason with one of his seven sureties. He could leave alone for things such as work, groceries and medical or legal appointments.

William Green was an auto worker for 27 years

Up until his arrest, Green had been working as a Chrysler auto worker in Windsor for 27 years. His defence lawyer Daniel Scott told the court Green was fired because he was in custody for three weeks, unable to work. His termination came one month before being eligible for retirement.

"Mr. Green was virtually kicked to the curb by Chrysler without any financial remuneration," Scott said in court.

In a separate legal proceeding, Scott said his client sued the automaker and his union and was awarded a settlement granting Green his pension and benefits, but no back pay.

The judge also gave him 30 days credit for time served in pre-sentenced custody and another six months credit for being under house arrest for more than four years. Green will now serve 77 months of his 84-month sentence in jail.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at jason.viau@cbc.ca

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