Stanley Abel Jr. was sentenced to five years in prison in N.W.T. Supreme Court Friday afternoon, after pleading guilty to killing his uncle at a Dettah house party last March.
The 31-year-old and his uncle Herman Abel had been at the Gold Range in Yellowknife on the evening of March 29 before attending the house party where they drank into the early morning.
Witnesses say that at one point Abel Jr. drunkenly said “I could kill all of you and you wouldn’t even know it”, and he admitted to having drunk so much that he did not remember attacking his uncle.
During the party, Herman Abel and his girlfriend had gone to a bedroom, where he fell asleep on the floor.
In court, witnesses testified that a drunk and angry Abel Jr. attacked his uncle, thinking the pair had stolen his vodka.
Abel Jr. stomped on his uncle’s head, kicked and elbowed him repeatedly according to testimony from Herman Abel’s girlfriend and another witness.
Herman Abel was taken to hospital, where he later died as the result of head injuries.
Alcohol not the only factor
In her ruling, Justice Louise Charbonneau said that throughout the trial Abel Jr.’s remorse was clear, describing the relationship between uncle and nephew as more like brothers.
“I know whatever sentence I pose today, Stanley Abel has already suffered,” Charbonneau said. “Whatever sentence I impose today won’t be as difficult [as] him having to live with what he’s done.”
In her decision, Charbonneau said the fact Abel Jr. was drunk did not excuse his actions and that intoxication was not the only factor in the events of the “brutal, senseless violence” that occurred that night.
Charbonneau believes something else was going on with Abel Jr. that led to the attack.
“I have absolutely no doubt that Mr. Abel is very sorry,” she said. “[But] this is a very serious, very blame worthy context.”
All factors considered
Throughout the trial, five victim impact statements were read. Two statements came from Herman Abel’s children and included letters and pictures that Charbonneau called “truly heartbreaking”.
His family insisted in their statements that the incident was out of character for Abel Jr.
In her decision, the justice said Able Jr.’s sentencing was meant to send a message of the seriousness of the situation.
There is no minimum sentence for manslaughter, with a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The fact he repeatedly attacked his uncle while he was sleeping placed Able Jr.’s case on the higher end of sentences according to Charbonneau.
But his guilty plea in December, his “virtually clean” criminal record and the statements from his family made a maximum sentence not necessary.
The Crown had asked for six years in prison, while Abel’s defense lawyer said four years would be more appropriate.
Charbonneau ruled in the middle, sentencing him to five years with credit from the almost 16 months he already spent in pre-trial custody.
She recommended he serve his remaining 44 months in the North to be close to his family who had been supportive throughout the trial, but could not guarantee that was where he would be sent.
Crown attorney Marc Lecorre said the sentence was fair considering all the factors.
“The judge did say that a six-year sentence was not unreasonable, and she did emphasis that this was a very serious offence, a very serious manslaughter at the high-end of the scale,” Lecorre told Moose FM.
“At the end of the day she did take into account the mitigating factors as well, including the guilty plea. She found that highly mitigating and exercised some restraint.
“She properly considered all of the factors and imposed a fair sentence at the end of the day.”
‘A huge relief’ for the family
For Abel Jr.’s mother Lucy Desjarlais, it’s a relief for the trial to finally be over.
“Now we can all go and heal, move on with our lives,” Desjarlais said, who was in tears as she left the courtroom. “I’ll wait for him to come home.”
Beverly Fatt is Herman Abel’s niece and Abel Jr.’s first cousin. She says she forgave her cousin for the first time Friday.
“This is the first time I saw him since it happened, so for me I felt a big relief that I saw him, and yes I do forgive him,” Fatt said.
“Our family’s been going through quite a bit after the incident, and I think this is going to have a little closure for us now. It’s been tough on us all, but I know that we’ll come together and be stronger.”
Fatt believes the justice did the right thing with the sentencing.
“Most of my family was kind of just hoping that he’ll stay close to us in the North,” she said. “Right now it’s not about that, it’s about how our family is going to deal with it. We have to live with this.
“We’re all within the family so we’ve got to support one another no matter what.”