Opinion

Sentence never ends for victim’s family

Alistair Taylor - Campbell River Mirror
Alistair Taylor
— image credit: Campbell River Mirror

Some years seem to have more significance than others, although really, there’s little difference between one year and the next. Or the previous.

But for some reason, anniversaries that fall on decades and half decades, feel like some kind of milestone.

That’s why this year is a particularly difficult one for Bob and Maureen Smythe who are marking five years since the killing of Bob’s son Christopher.

Christopher attended a house party on Rockland Road on Feb. 27, 2010 at a townhouse rented by Tyler Pastuck, then 26, and attended by Derek Crowther, 23, and Jacob Lawrence, 20, among others. The party progressed until the wee hours when neighbours called police after seeing a man being dragged by his ankles and then being “stomped on” by two or three other men.

As former Campbell River Mirror reporter Paul Rudan wrote, based on court testimony, “RCMP arrived within minutes of the call and found (Christopher) Smythe behind the complex, still alive, but badly beaten. He died three days later from blunt force head injuries.

“Const. Rob Munroe then spotted Crowther and other party goers standing at an open townhouse window. The Mountie recognized Crowther from past dealings and told him to go to the front door so the officer could speak to him.

“But Crowther didn’t respond and shut the window. Const. Munroe surmised that Crowther was involved in the assault and moved quickly to the entrance. He then kicked in the front door and, with gun drawn, went upstairs where the partiers had congregated.

“Crowther was found hiding under a mattress while Pastuck was found hiding in a closet. Both were covered in mud – it was wet outside – and blood found on both of them was later identified, through DNA analysis, to have belonged to the victim.”

In January 2012, Pastuck was sentenced to seven years in a federal prison while Crowther received a six-year term. However, their sentences were both reduced by 27 months due to time already served behind bars. Their sentences were upheld in an appeal. Lawrence never went to trial because he died in a motorcycle accident in June 2011.

Now, the other two have one year left on their parole and are out of prison on statutory release (released into the community after serving two-thirds of your custodial sentence).

Bob and Maureen Smythe, however, will never be released from their sentence. Their son is still dead. He won’t come back. And the Smythes won’t be able to “get over it.”

“You never get over it,” Bob tells me.

Pastuck and Crowther were convicted of manslaughter after they and Lawrence beat and kicked Chris to the point where, three days later, he died of his injuries. The Crown prosecutor pursued manslaughter charges, Maureen says, because he couldn’t prove that the attackers knew that what they were doing would kill Chris. She is, not surprisingly, astounded by this legal nicety.

“It’s not manslaughter, it’s murder,” Maureen said. “People see manslaughter as not so bad so, therefore, Bob should get over it. Enough time has passed; five years ago.”

But, as Bob said, you never get over it.

“There’s so many triggers. I think of him (Chris) every day,” Bob says. “You wonder what it would be like if he was around.”

It’s not just a one time event. You have to relive the killing  over and over again as the legal process rolls on. The killing happens and then there is a preliminary hearing and then it goes to trial and then the person goes to prison and then there’s appeal after appeal.

“It’s like, the courts, for the last four-and-a-half years never stopped,” Maureen said.

“They’re looking for a way out. They’re looking to try to find a loophole somewhere so that they can get out because they don’t feel that they’ve done wrong,” Bob says. “That’s not right. And they’re just wasting everybody’s time and money. We as taxpayers, we’re paying for all that.”

And now there’s parole hearings and Bob attends those because he feels he should be there to keep track of what happens.

But as bad as being dragged through the legal system is, it’s also difficult for the Smythes because they’re still living in the same town as the family of the killers. In fact, one family lives in the same neighbourhood, one street over. They see them walking by their house.

“It’s a small community,” Maureen says.

It’s a difficult situation. The Smythes don’t want to move and why should they? They’ve lived in this town for years. Bob is nearing retirement from his job.

“What are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to run and hide,” Bob says.

And another disturbing component of this anniversary is that it has happened again in an eerily similar incident last year. Last October, Joshua Billy was killed in a carport on Alpine Road, beaten to death at a party.

Nobody has been charged in connection with that incident still. Yet, there had to have been somebody who saw something. Billy’s family has been circulating posters around town hunting for someone who saw something and is willing to come forward.

There was a 911 call placed after the Billy beating death but nobody has come forward.

The Smythes can’t understand why people won’t speak up. If someone had done something sooner, Billy may not have died. It’s the same with Chris Smythe. If someone had spoke up, called police, something, things might have been different.

The Smythes know how Billy’s family feels and they urge people to come forward with information in these situations. They’re also appalled at the plague of violence happening in communities all over Vancouver Island.

So now, the Smythes’ lives have been changed forever. The life with their son that they were anticipating can never be.

“Until you actually lose somebody close to you like that you can never understand,” Bob says.

Five years have passed. The pain is no less this year than it was last year and it won’t be any different next year. But somehow five years feels significant.

“Five years, it’s an anniversary of sorts, right? I think what’s hitting so hard is that these guys are out of prison,” Maureen says.

But the Smythes, they live with this for the rest of their lives.

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