Less than a month after his mother was sentenced to prison for manslaughter, a Winnipeg man was in a Winnipeg courtroom Tuesday before the same judge to face punishment for the same charge.
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.
Court was told 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.
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, Crown attorney Bryton Moen told Queen’s Bench Justice Sadie Bond.
New Directions staff found Constant dead in his apartment the next morning, with foam around his mouth, Moen said. An autopsy found Constant had suffered significant internal injuries to his brain, Moen said.
Smith’s assault on Constant was captured on security video. In an interview with police, Smith said Constant was wearing a white bandanna, 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 bandanna and walked away.
Smith had a chaotic upbringing marked by neglect, violence and exposure to drug abuse during periods spent in the care of his mother, Roberta Jessamine, defence lawyer Scott Newman told Bond, who last month sentenced Jessamine to 14 years in prison.
"It’s quite evident to me that Ms. Jessamine was not equipped in any meaningful way to deal with the needs of her children," Newman said, adding she "actively interfered" with Smith receiving appropriate medical and psychiatric care as a child.
In a pre-sentence report provided to court, Smith expressed continuing devotion to his mother, saying: "She has always been there for me, even with all her problems. She has always been there trying to help me do better."
"Of course, he loves his mother," Newman said. "But I can’t help but look at his upbringing and see how much of the problems he has had flow from her inability (to parent)."
Moen urged Bond to sentence Smith to nine years in prison, while Newman recommended she sentence him to no more than two years in jail, arguing it would provide him the best chance at rehabilitation.
Bond raised concerns about an agreed statement of facts provided to court after Smith appeared to recant on an admission the attack was motivated, in part, by gang rivalry.
Moen said Smith’s position was irrelevant, arguing his crime would be no less serious if the victim had been a random stranger.
"It’s a distinction without a difference in terms of the ultimate sentence. Both are concerning," he 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.
"It is clearly an insult and an indignity to the deceased that he was treated in that way," Bond told Jessamine at her May 26 sentencing.
Bond will sentence Smith at a later date.
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.