Nothing less than an adult prison sentence will hold a 16-year-old boy accountable for a vicious unprovoked attack that ended in the death of a 73-year-old stranger, a judge was told Tuesday.
"With these facts and these circumstances, to order a youth sentence would undermine the interests of justice," Crown attorney Jennifer Comack told provincial court Judge Heather Pullan.
The youth has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Sept. 23, 2018 killing of James Barrington Olson.
Court has heard Olson was walking along Redwood Avenue around 2 a.m. when the then-15-year-old accused ran across the street toward Olson and within seconds began punching and kicking him. The youth continued to kick and stomp on Olson's head and chest for 15 minutes as he lay motionless on the ground before police interrupted the attack and arrested him.
Olson was transported to Health Sciences Centre where he died a short time later.
"Think about the eternity that must have felt like to James Olson, lying on the ground helpless," Comack said. "The attack was unprovoked and random, which from a public safety perspective is terrifying."
The Crown is urging Pullan to sentence the boy as an adult to life in prison with no chance of parole for five to seven years. If sentenced as a youth, the teen would be subject to a maximum of seven years custody and supervision.
Comack said unlike many young offenders in similar circumstances, the boy acted alone when he attacked Olson.
"No one influenced him, no one incited him, no one encouraged him," Comack said. "He ran at James Olson and said ‘I’m going to kill you, I’m going to beat you.’ He caused every blow, every kick, every punch."
In June 2018, the boy was sentenced to 105 days served and 18 months supervised probation for assaulting a girlfriend, carrying a concealed weapon (a machete) and robbery. Two months later — and a month before the murder — he was involved in a violent home invasion for which he was later sentenced to three years custody and community supervision.
"He just got an almost four year sentence (including pre-sentence custody) for a home invasion," Comack said. "Getting seven years longer for killing someone, that’s not good enough."
According to a pre-sentence report provided to court, the teen assaulted two other youths while in custody and confirmed his continuing membership in a gang.
"He continues to be a big supporter of his gang and its leader and has no plans on leaving," a probation officer wrote.
Defence lawyer Sandra Bracken argued the Crown has not rebutted the presumption of diminished moral culpability, a necessary finding to sentence a youth as an adult, or shown that a youth sentence will not be long enough to hold the teen accountable for his actions.
Bracken is recommending the teen serve his sentence under an Intensive Rehabilitative Custody and Supervision (IRCS) order. The IRCS program allows participants access to one-on-one counselling, occupational therapy, tutoring and other specialized services at a cost of $100,000 a year.
The teen’s upbringing was marked by "poverty, exposure to substance abuse, violence and hunger," Bracken said, while psychological reports submitted to court pointed to a "provisional diagnosis" of cognitive impairment and "emotional disturbance."
The teen’s sentence "must be balanced by the need for rehabilitation and reintegration," Bracken said, noting he expressed remorse for the killing and a desire to work with his treatment team.
In a victim impact statement, family members described Olson as a caring, but sometimes troubled man who "shared all he had with everyone."
Olson’s relationship with his children was at times strained, his son Jason told court, "but we still loved him."
"Reconstructing and building that relationship with our dad is not feasible anymore… we missed our chance," he said. "We are left with a hole in our family, as well as a hole in our hearts."
Pullan reserved her decision.