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Judge will return to Courtenay in January with second-degree murder sentence

A Comox Valley teen will have to wait until the new year to see how long he will remain in custody and the severity of his sentence for the second-degree murder of James Denton.

The three-day sentencing hearing ended Wednesday morning, with Justice R.B.T Goepel noting he will need until more time to make his decision as to whether the teen will be sentenced as a youth or as an adult.

"Clearly, this is a difficult task," he explained to a packed gallery. "I do need some time to reflect and read further details."

In August, Goepel found the teen, who was 16 at the time of the murder, guilty, and Crown prosecutor Gordon Baines noted he is seeking an adult sentence.

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.

Denton was raised in Port Hardy, but moved to the Comox Valley several years ago and attended Highland Secondary School in Comox.

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

The hearing began Monday with family members reading emotional victim impact statements, and explained the impact of James' death on their day-to-day life.

Baines noted the onus is on the Crown to prove why the accused should be sentenced as an adult, and presented six aggravating facts to Goepel including that the accused brought a weapon to a public event, that he provoked the fight, and the attack with the knife was done without warning.

He 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 also took issue with a psychological report prepared for the hearing.

"The report is flawed," he stated. "Even though (the author) had a copy of the reasons for judgment, it's based on (the accused) self-report of the incident."

"The report should have little or no weight," he added.

Baines argued the prospects for rehabilitation for the accused is not good until "he truly accepts the responsibility of Mr. Denton's murder," despite writing an explanation and apology letter directed to the Dentons.

"(The accused) needs to learn true empathy, not just the words that are advantageous in these proceedings," he said. "He still assumes self-defence; he still believes he was justified. That's still not admitting responsibility."

Defence lawyer Michael Mulligan reminded court in his arguments that although second-degree murder is an "extremely serious" offence, it does not indicate that an adult sentence must be imposed.

"It's significant that there would be little practical difference in time that (the accused) would spend in jail under either sentencing," he explained.

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, the accused could be eligible for day parole in February 2017, and full parole by July 2018, taking into consideration time served.

"With respect to age — 16 — sentencing can amount to eight years. That in my submission is a serious and meaningful sentence. You are spending half the amount you are alive in custody," Mulligan said.

He added an adult sentence will make it difficult for rehabilitation, and that his client accepts the fact he must be punished, and added he expressed genuine remorse.

Mulligan read aloud a letter Tuesday written by the teen expressing his regret and his apology, although the Denton family left the courtroom while it was being read.

Mulligan explained in his arguments his client is "highly motivated, and he knows he can't undo what he has done, but acknowledges the harm he's done."

Goepel will deliver his decision Jan. 18, 2013 at 10 a.m. at the courthouse in Courtenay

photos@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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