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Tension palpable at murder sentencing hearing in Courtenay

THE DENTON FAMILY and supporters wait outside the courthouse displaying their familiar signs. - Erin Haluschak
THE DENTON FAMILY and supporters wait outside the courthouse displaying their familiar signs.
— image credit: Erin Haluschak

Emotions were high inside and outside the Courtenay courthouse Monday afternoon, as a sentencing hearing began for a Comox Valley teen previously found guilty for the second-degree murder of James Denton.

In August, Justice R.B.T. Goepel made that ruling about the teen, who was 16 at the time of the murder, guilty. Crown prosecutor Gordon Baines noted he would seek an adult sentence.

The accused cannot be named because of the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).

The hearing Monday began with James' mother and father, Brenda and David Denton, reading victim impact statements, followed by James' uncle George Denton and Crown reading brother Shayne Denton's statement aloud.

Dressed in a white button-down shirt and black pants, the accused began to cry as the statements were being read, keeping his gaze down and avoiding eye contact with the packed gallery.

"There are no words to express the pain in my heart," said Brenda Denton. "What's left of an amazing, gentle, loving man is now a box of ashes sitting next to my bed … never in my worst nightmare did I think (James) would be robbed of his life. My heart is still broken."

Denton explained "day to day life is extremely difficult," and the death of her son has changed her in many ways.

"I was a very social, outgoing person, and now the mere task of going out is overwhelming. I feel like my life is stuck in this nightmare."

Court heard throughout the trial, which concluded in June, that Denton, 19, was stabbed twice — once in the left armpit and once in the left lower back — near the entrance to G.P. Vanier Secondary School following the conclusion of a July 2011 day-long music festival at the nearby Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds.

David Denton described he and his son shared a passion for logging, nature, fishing and hunting, and had plans to purchase property together near Nanaimo to be closer to extended family.

"James and I had an uncommonly close father/son relationship. He didn't hesitate telling other people I was his best friend," he said through tears. "There is an intense sadness that is totally overwhelming me. It's so unjust, so unreasonable, so undeserved and so unbelievably sad."

Denton said since the murder, he is unable to work as a heavy equipment operator because he has trouble sleeping, which now requires medication.

"You have changed so many lives for the worst," noted George Denton as he directed his statement towards the accused. "There isn't much to smile about anymore."

Outside the courtroom, emotions flared during an afternoon break between friends and family of both the Dentons and the accused, as sheriffs were needed to break up a scuffle on the steps of the courthouse.

Justice Goepel noted prior to the commencement of the proceedings, he is unsure if at the conclusion of the scheduled week-long hearing, a sentencing decision will be forthcoming, or if he will need to reserve his decision for a future date, scheduled for Jan. 18, 2013.

Under the YCJA, the maximum sentence for second-degree murder is seven years, with a maximum of four years in custody, and the remainder to be served in the community with conditions and under supervision.

As an adult, second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence, however, the judge can set parole eligibility at anywhere between 10 and 25 years. If sentenced as an adult, Crown explained the accused could be eligible for day parole in February 2017, and full parole by July 2018.

• • •

Citing six aggravating factors, Crown prosecutor Gordon Baines began his arguments Monday afternoon in a week-long sentencing hearing.

He is seeking an adult sentence for the accused found guilty of second-degree murder.

Since the outset of the trial, Baines noted he was seeking an adult sentence for the accused, who was 16 at the time of the murder.

"(The accused) was clearly the aggressor. He was not scared or frightened, and he didn't act in self-defence. He could have walked away," Baines explained to court.

Baines noted there are six aggravating facts:

• The accused brought a weapon to a public event.

• He had a knife out (an element of premeditation) and had a conversation with a friend prior to the incident about "not wanting to stab someone."

• The accused provoked the fight.

• The attack with the knife was done without warning.

• The knife was used twice.

• The accused ran away after the incident without trying to assist James Denton, whom he had just stabbed.

Baines added that court should place the most weight on the seriousness and circumstances of the event, as well as consider the accused's age, maturity, character and previous background.

Baines will continue his argument early this week, followed by an argument for a youth sentence by defence lawyer Michael Mulligan.

photos@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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