‘She felt she was to blame’ Witnessing stabbing death of husband led woman to take own life, family tells court
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Alvin Nelson will never be charged in Vanessa Chartrand’s death, but just as surely as he killed her husband with a stab wound to the heart, he claimed her life, too, her grieving father told a Winnipeg court.
Thirty-year-old Russel Clarence Gibeault died March 12, 2021, after he was stabbed 14 times inside his Agnes Street home. Two months later, Chartrand, who cradled Gibeault in her arms as his life ebbed away, hanged herself under a basement stairwell.
Nelson, 35, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced earlier this month to 18 years in prison.
In a lengthy victim impact statement provided to court, Wally Chartrand gave voice to his family’s loss and his daughter’s overwhelming pain.
“I want to let you know that I hold you responsible for Vanessa not being able to make this statement in person today,” he wrote. “I honestly believe had it not been for your senseless cowardly actions, Vanessa would still be very much alive today.”
Court heard Vanessa Chartrand had agreed to let Nelson, identified as a cousin, and his girlfriend live at Agnes Street three weeks earlier, as they had no other place to stay.
“She confided in me several times how she felt she was to blame for Clarence being killed by you,” Wally Chartrand wrote. “She said the reason she believed this was because she had convinced Clarence to allow you and your partner to crash in their home, even though Clarence was against this.”
“I honestly believe had it not been for your senseless cowardly actions, Vanessa would still be very much alive today.”
– Wally Chartrand
Nelson was originally charged with second-degree murder, but in a plea bargain agreed to admit to the lesser offence of manslaughter in a case Crown attorney Mitchell Lavitt said was “close to near-murder.”
Had the case gone to trial it would have been without Vanessa Chartrand, the Crown’s main witness, and would have required testimony from two of her young children, who were in the home at the time Gibeault was killed, Lavitt told Queen’s Bench Justice Shane Perlmutter.
According to an agreed statement of facts provided to court, Chartrand returned home from work the afternoon of March 12 to find Gibeault, Nelson and his girlfriend had been drinking and were all intoxicated.
Upset, Chartrand poured the remainder of a vodka bottle down the kitchen sink and told Gibeault she was going to walk to her cousin’s home to look for her cellphone, which she believed Gibeault had misplaced.
When Chartrand told Gibeault she did not want him to accompany her, Gibeault went upstairs and told Nelson to go with her “to make sure she was protected,” Lavitt told court, reading from the agreed statement of facts.
Gibeault went to the washroom where, moments later, Nelson, now armed with a chef’s knife, stabbed him 14 times in the neck, chest and legs.
Hearing a commotion on the floor above, Chartrand walked toward the staircase when she saw Nelson — blood on his face and hands and still carrying the knife — and his girlfriend hastily making their way downstairs. Chartrand yelled at Nelson to get out, and he apologized as the couple left through the front door.
Chartrand contacted her mother-in-law through Facebook and she called 911. Paramedics tried to revive Gibeault but he died less than an hour later.
“After I was able to calm her down a bit, she whispered to me: ‘Dad, I felt Clarence leaving his body.’”
– Wally Chartrand
Wally Chartrand said he answered his phone to the sounds of his daughter screaming and sobbing Clarence had been stabbed. He rushed to the house to find her hysterical and covered in blood.
“After I was able to calm her down a bit, she whispered to me: ‘Dad, I felt Clarence leaving his body,’” he wrote.
Police arrested Nelson five days later. In a video interview, Nelson told investigators he had “blacked out.”
Over the next two months, Vanessa Chartrand spent sleepless nights reliving Gibeault’s death and the “sounds he made as he tried to fight to live,” her father wrote.
On the afternoon of May 15, came a phone call “no parent ever wants to receive”: Chartrand had died by suicide.
Wally Chartrand arrived at her home to see his daughter one last time before her body was taken away by the coroner.
“It was only by seeing her could I make myself believe that she was truly dead… This is an image that is embedded into my soul and haunts me to this day,” he wrote.
Had she lived, she would have eventually forgiven Nelson, he wrote. And so, too, would have Gibeault, family members told court in their own victim impact statements.
“I guess I forgive you, too, Alvin, because now you have to live with what happened that day every single day for the rest of your life,” said Roxanne Tait-Alexander, Gibeault’s sister.
Gibeault was the “glue” that kept the family together and “the best little brother anyone could ever hope for,” Tait-Alexander said.
“My brother didn’t deserve to die, especially how he was killed, by a so-called friend that he welcomed into his home.”
Nelson was raised on Roseau River First Nation in a home environment plagued by substance abuse, violence and instability, his lawyer, Chris McCoy, told court. Nelson turned to alcohol following the death of his father, his lone remaining support, shortly before moving in with Gibeault and Chartrand.
“I wish I had quit drinking that day, but that doesn’t change the fact that I took someone’s son, someone’s dad, someone’s brother,” Nelson told court. “As a result, my cousin took her life, and it breaks me every time I think about it.”
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.
Updated on Friday, May 13, 2022 8:12 PM CDT: fixes spelling error
Updated on Wednesday, May 18, 2022 5:50 PM CDT: Corrects name of Roxanne Tait-Alexander