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Assailant given 4½ years for ‘brutal’ attack

Recanted admission of gang motivation

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A judge has sentenced a Winnipeg man to 4 1/2 years in prison for a fatal attack on a stranger.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/07/2022 (214 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A judge has sentenced a Winnipeg man to 4 1/2 years in prison for a fatal attack on a stranger.

Derrik Lawrence Edward Smith, 23, pleaded guilty to manslaughter for an unprovoked attack on 24-year-old Denzel Constant, on Oct. 12, 2020, that resulted in his death a day later from a catastrophic brain injury.

“Mr. Smith’s actions were… brutal and brazen,” Queen’s Bench Justice Sadie Bond said Thursday. “This is callous street violence and is totally unacceptable in our community.”

Constant and a friend were walking on Salter Street near Burrows Avenue around 8:30 p.m. when Smith and another man approached them and demanded Constant surrender his backpack. When he did, Smith struck Constant in the head with the backpack, causing him to fall to the ground and hit his head on the sidewalk. Inside the backpack were a glass bong and metal canteen.

Constant got to his feet, and with his friend walked to his apartment, a supportive housing unit operated by New Directions. After arriving home, Constant continued to be in significant pain and began suffering seizures.

New Directions staff found Constant dead in his apartment the next morning, with foam around his mouth. An autopsy found Constant had suffered significant injuries to his brain.

Smith “clearly did not intend to harm Mr. Constant,” Bond said. “The robbery appears to have been spontaneous and opportunistic.”

Smith’s assault on Constant was captured on security video. In an interview with police, Smith said Constant was wearing a white bandana, which is associated with the Native Syndicate street gang. Smith, an associate of a rival gang, said after knocking Constant to the ground he removed his bandana and walked away.

At a sentencing hearing last week, Smith recanted his admission the attack was gang motivated. Defence lawyer Scott Newman said Smith’s recall of events was compromised by drugs and alcohol, and his police statement was riddled with contradictions.

Bond rejected a Crown recommendation Smith be sentenced to nine years in prison, saying she could not, in the circumstances, accept evidence the attack was gang motivated, instead calling the attack an “exercise in dominance.”

Court heard Smith had a chaotic upbringing marked by neglect, family violence and exposure to drug abuse during periods spent in the care of his mother, Roberta Jessamine, whom Bond sentenced last month to 14 years in prison for manslaughter.

“These circumstances help explain why Mr. Smith came to be before the court,” Bond said.

Smith has maintained his gang ties while in custody and has been involved in assaults on other inmates, Bond said, calling into question his commitment to rehabilitation.

“He has not been a model inmate,” she said.

Jessamine, 51, pleaded guilty to manslaughter for her part in the March 2020 killing of John Kirkwa.

Jessamine and co-accused Selena Cross had assaulted Kirkwa for his bank card number. When he died, they dumped the 33-year-old man’s body in a garbage bin and siphoned the remaining money from his bank account.

dean.pritchard@freepress.mb.ca

Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard
Courts reporter

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.

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