Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Teen takes responsibility for killing fellow high school football player with surprise punch

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A Winnipeg teen has taken responsibility for killing a fellow high school football player with a single surprise punch hurled outside a rookie initiation party in Transcona.

Christian O'Neail, 18, suffered a major brain injury and died after being struck in the jaw and falling to the pavement outside a Nevens Bay home.

The young man who threw the unexpected blow pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter on Wednesday in connection with O'Neail's Aug. 31, 2013 death.

He was 17 at the time and charged under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, so he cannot be identified. Neither he nor O'Neail lived at the home where the party took place.

Prosecutors elected not to seek an adult sentence in the case, Crown attorney Dan Angus told court.

O'Neail, who played football for Kildonan East Collegiate, was invited with friends into a "rookie initiation" party attended by players of a different school team, Angus said.

Upon seeing the KE group turn up, the accused — who didn't know O'Neail — made "statements to the effect of, 'he was going to knock out some randoms,'" Angus said.

The comment "may or may not" have been referring to O'Neail and his friends, the prosecutor added.

Over the course of the evening, there were other "minor incidents" occurring, including a "rap battle" (a rapping competition) that escalated to the point O'Neail was asked to leave.

Words were also exchanged over which school had the better football team, Angus said.

"Mr. O'Neail was actually slapped in the face by another individual…so the group decided to depart," Judge Ted Lismer was told.

On the way out, O'Neail kept saying things to other party guests and a planter was kicked over — drawing the attention of the homeowner supervising the gathering.

On the street out front of the home, the homeowner and O'Neail talked.

Things were calming down and the two were in the middle of shaking hands when the offender burst through people crowded around and struck O'Neail "square" on the side of his jaw. O'Neail fell to the ground, said Angus.

The act was "initially cheered by the crowd of (team) supporters, unaware of the seriousness of the condition of the victim," he said.

Many people described the attack as "a sucker punch," Angus said. "(O'Neail) never saw the punch coming."

He was rushed to hospital but was declared brain dead. The official cause of his death was a combination of the punch and the fall, Angus said.

The accused was quickly arrested and spent a few days in custody before being granted bail. He remains free in the community pending sentencing later this year.

Defence lawyer Greg Brodsky told court the offender's "knock out some randoms" comment was not directed at O'Neail.

Nor was he in a position to see the victim and homeowner shaking hands just prior to the attack, Brodsky said.

"It was one punch and then he left," said Brodsky.

O'Neail's friends and family were left devastated by his death. He'd just graduated high school and was about to start university.

The football team he'd played for — the Kildonan East Collegiate Reivers — chose to honour O'Neail by wearing a sticker with his jersey number on it for the 2013 season.

A game day after his death was dedicated to his memory and a moment of silence was observed beforehand.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 10:27 PM CDT: Grammar fixes.

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