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Lawyer says La Loche school shooter requesting youth sentence was crying out

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REGINA — The lawyer for a young man who shot and killed four people in northern Saskatchewan says his client was an isolated teenager crying out for help that never came.

Aaron Fox is arguing before the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal that the shooter, now 21, should serve a youth sentence instead of the adult punishment he has received.

The shooter was weeks shy of turning 18 when he killed two brothers at their home and then a teacher and a teacher’s aide at the La Loche high school in 2016.

He was sentenced as an adult last year to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years after pleading guilty to first-degree murder, second-degree murder and attempted murder.

Fox cited statements from the young man’s teachers who noted he was often alone, constantly withdrawn and someone who should have received academic and psychological help.

Fox referred to the shooter’s school journal where he listed his dislikes as school, students and teachers and, in another section, answered a question from assignment by bringing up a murder plan.

“I read all of these words and they cry out for somebody to sit down and try and figure out what’s going on in this kid’s world,” Fox told the Appeal Court on Thursday.

“But it didn’t happen.”

The shooter, mostly looking straight ahead and sitting with his hands folded, appeared in court via video.

A publication ban ordered because of the appeal prevents identifying him.

Fox said his client is serving his sentence at a maximum-security facility and not receiving the psychological help he needs.

He argued the sentencing judge focused on the gravity of the crime while failing to consider evidence that spoke to cognitive problems affecting the offender’s maturity, empathy, ability to understand consequences and, above all, his level of blame.

Court heard the shooter has a low IQ and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and has struggled with depression.

At the time of the shooting he was repeating Grade 10 for a third time.

“There were lots of kids with problems in La Loche,” Fox said.

“The problem was that he couldn’t deal with problems in a mature adult-like way.”

The Crown previously argued in court that the shooter should be sentenced as an adult given the seriousness of the crime and the offender’s circumstances.

In her sentencing decision, a judge found the shooting involved sophisticated planning. The shooter researched different kinds of guns and the damage they could do to people. The night before the shootings he did an online search asking, “What does it feel like to kill someone?”

Fox said the shooting was a product of his client’s depression, anxiety and hopelessness and was not sophisticated.

Crown prosecutor Beverly Klatt said while the judge agreed the shooter faced cognitive limitations, there was differing expert opinions on his developmental state.

Klatt told court the shooter demonstrated an ability to foreshadow potential consequences and problem solve in his planning of the shooting.

“It was relatively sophisticated,” she said.

The Court of Appeal has reserved its decision.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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