3 min

Convicted youth still in custody

Sentence review delayed until January

He’s still in youth youth detention-for now. The first youth convicted of killing Aaron Webster returned to court Dec 17 for his mandatory one-year sentence review. The youth (who can’t be named) pleaded guilty to manslaughter Jul 30, 2003. Youth court Judge Valmond Romilly sentenced him to two years in custody plus a year’s house arrest last December-the maximum sentence possible under the circumstances.

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the youth’s incarceration.

According to section 94 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, all young people committed to custody for more than a year must have their sentence reviewed at the end of the first year.

“It’s mandatory,” emphasizes Sandra Dworkin, the Crown counsel assigned to the youth’s case. “It’s not unusual. It’s just a normal part of the process.”

In fact, she points out, the mandatory review is consistent with the overall tenor of the youth criminal justice system and its focus on “rehabilitation and reintegration.”

Normal or not, the review didn’t sit well with some members of the gay community.

Convicted gaybashers should get a chance to turn their lives around and rehabilitate themselves, says Jim Deva of Little Sister’s bookstore. But only after they’ve served their time in jail.

“I don’t think one year for this horrible crime would be appropriate,” he says-especially since the youth could have gotten a much longer sentence had he been tried as an adult. (The Crown kept the case in youth court last year after the youth agreed to testify against the two adults also charged with Webster’s manslaughter. That testimony recently proved useless because it was so full of inconsistencies the judge ruled she couldn’t rely on it.)

It will send the wrong message if the judge reviews this youth’s sentence and lets him out before he serves his second year, Deva continues. It will tell “kids with clubs” that it’s okay to kill gay men.

Deva wants the youth to spend another year in custody contemplating “the atrocious thing that he did.”

So does David McDonald.

“I’d be all for [the youth] trying to turn his life around, but he still should serve his full sentence,” says McDonald, who sat through every day of the adults’ two-and-a-half week trial and attended the youth’s mandatory review, as well.

The review didn’t get very far.

Dworkin immediately asked Judge Joseph Galati for an adjournment until January. She wanted Judge Romilly, the judge who originally sentenced the youth (and threw the book at him), to hear the review.

She got her way.

Though the original sentencing judge is not required by law to preside over such a review, it is preferable wherever practical, Galati ruled. And asking the youth to wait until Jan 12 for his annual review is not unfair, he added.

The review was rescheduled for Jan 12 at 9:30 am in youth court.

“I think it’s a really good thing,” McDonald says, outside the courtroom. “I hope that the sentence stays exactly as it is and he doesn’t get the opportunity to go to school [next] year.”

Though the youth’s new lawyer, John Turner, didn’t get a chance to make any applications to the judge before the case got re-scheduled, the Vancouver Sun recently reported that he’ll be seeking at least partial release for his client to go to college.

“It just kind of stuns me,” McDonald says. “Our justice system seems like it’s more for the accused than the victim.” Webster can’t go back to college now, he adds.

McDonald says he’d like to see the youth serve every single day of his two-year jail term. “Not a day less.”

Speaking outside the courtroom, Turner says Judge Romilly will have a couple of options in January. He can confirm the original sentence (the two-year jail term plus a year’s house arrest). Or he could grant the youth “open custody,” which means he’d be able to leave his detention centre during the day to attend college, provided he returns to the centre each night. Or he could let him out of jail entirely and allow him to skip directly to the house arrest stage, where he’d live at home under strict supervision and a curfew and only be allowed out for specific purposes such as attending school.

Webster’s cousin, Fred Norman, is confident that Romilly will be firm.

Judge Romilly is the only member of the court to call the killing a hate crime so far, he points out.

In his original sentencing decision, Judge Romilly found that the attack was motivated by hatred of gays and peeping toms, and gave the youth the stiffest sentence possible.

“I fail to see why this cannot be described as a gaybashing,” he ruled last December.

“Romilly is obviously the one who should be deciding this young man’s fate,” Deva says. “He clearly spoke about it being a hate crime, so our community will be represented when he talks.

“And if anyone is going to keep that young man under lock and key, it will be Romilly.”

The youth will return to youth court Jan 12 at 9:30 am for his mandatory sentence review.


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