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This article was published 24/1/2019 (920 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A young man with no history of criminal violence has been sentenced to life behind bars for the senseless murder of a beloved northern Manitoba hunting guide.
Vernon Robert Baker, 22, will serve at least 20 years in prison without a chance at parole after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in the July 2015 killing of Mark Dumas.
"My life was taken when Mark was killed," the victim’s aunt wrote in one of 21 victim impact statements filed in the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench this month and read out during a sentencing hearing in Thompson.
"I wish for the offender a life of misery and not to see his family," she said.
The Free Press reviewed an audio transcript of the Jan. 14 hearing on Thursday.
The remote community of South Indian Lake, located northwest of Thompson near Leaf Rapids, was rocked after the slaying and Baker’s arrest. No clear motive for the killing emerged in the RCMP investigation.
According to a statement of facts recited by the Crown in court, Baker attacked Dumas shortly after telling his ex-girlfriend he would hurt a member of her family. Dumas was the woman’s favourite cousin, prosecutor Ari Millo said.
Baker erupted in violence, bashing Dumas with his fists and then kicking and stomping him in the head and chest while he was down.
He dragged Dumas to a nearby boat and began paddling out toward what’s known in the community as "potato island," located just off the mainland.
Baker continued the assault along the way, while some members of the community — including Baker’s father — watched what was happening and implored him to stop, Millo said.
"Why should I? Who wants to die next?" Baker yelled. "Who’s going to call the cops on me?"
Dumas, still conscious, raised his arms above his head and pleaded for Baker to stop.
"Please, don’t," he said.
Baker dragged Dumas up a hill and killed him with a combination of physical blows and strikes with a stick used as a makeshift boat paddle, Millo said.
After checking to see Dumas had no pulse, Baker returned to shore and threw away the stick.
Dumas wasn’t found until after his mother called Leaf Rapids RCMP to make a missing persons report and a community search team located his body. An autopsy showed he’d suffered 16 head wounds, including skull fractures. He died of blunt-force trauma, Millo said.
Baker was arrested a day after the killing and gave a full, detailed confession to police. While he’d smoked some marijuana, he told investigators he had not been drinking. RCMP initially arrested him for manslaughter, but the Crown authorized a first-degree murder charge a short time later.
Millo said the Crown agreed to let Baker plead to the lesser charge because it brought a measure of closure to the victim’s family. It also took into account the fact Baker is a young and Indigenous first-time offender who would spend "the bulk of his adulthood" behind bars.
Justice Chris Martin probed Baker for more detail about why he’d committed such a "brutal and shocking" crime. He’d known Dumas for most of his life and had no problems with him.
"He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time?" Martin asked.
"Yeah, you could say that," Baker replied.
Martin offered his condolences to members of the victim’s family who were in court. They spoke of him as a friendly, loving and outgoing man who was gifted at traditional hunting and trapping. He’d worked as a guide at the community-owned Big Sand Lake Resort. Staff had described him to the Free Press as kind, well-mannered and a "gentle soul."
"It sounds like he was a wonderful man and that he made a difference in the lives of people," Martin said. "I have heard your pain, I have heard your anguish."
Defence lawyer Jon Robbins said Baker’s family has disowned him.
"They have essentially shunned him — he is completely on his own," Robbins said.
Baker apologized in court.
"To this day, I still beat myself up over it," he said.
— with files from Bill Redekop