3 min

First killer pleads guilty

More arrests in Webster death likely

NO CLOSURE: Aaron Webster was murdered Nov 17, 2001. Credit: Xtra West files

Vancouver’s queer community received a long-anticipated Pride Week present Jul 30 as the 19-year-old Burnaby youth charged in the 2001 fatal park beating of Aaron Webster pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Police anticipate further charges by the end of the summer.

The 41-year-old photographer died in the arms of his friend of 15 years, Tim Chisholm, early on Nov 17, 2001 in Stanley Park on the road at the entrance to the cruising trails. A small, painted memorial marks the spot.

Senior officers immediately labelled the murder a gaybashing and noted it had all the hallmarks of a hate crime.

Webster’s death galvanized the queer community to demand Vancouver police deal with bashings effectively. Despite that, incidences of violence against queers continue in the West End.

Police believe four males were involved in killing Webster by hitting him with a bat or pool cue. Not all were youths at the time, police maintain.

As his case was discussed, the stocky, brown-haired 19-year-old, clad in a dark suit and tie, stood quietly beside his lawyer as his parents watched. (Only Xtra West, Associated Press, CBC Radio and TV and CKNW attended the hearing.)

Under the Young Offenders Act, the youth cannot be named as he was younger than 18 at the time of the offence.

Prosecutor Sandra Dworkin abandoned an application to have the youth tried in adult court when the plea arose.

After confirming his guilty plea, the youth was asked if he understood the seriousness of the charge.

His only words were: “I understand.”

His lawyer, David Baker, said his client’s role in Webster’s death will be explained at the sentencing hearing.

“My client looks forward to having the evidence in this matter come to light, so that his part in this tragic death can be explained.”

He would not comment on whether or not the manslaughter charge was arrived at through a plea bargain.

The youth faces a maximum three-year sentence in some combination of jail and probation. The sentencing hearing is set for Oct 28 at 9:30 am.

Outside court, the youth remained tight-lipped, the family referring all questions to Baker.

Webster’s chosen mother, Gloria Laforge, was visibly shaken to see the youth for the first time.

“It was definitely a hate crime,” she says. “Manslaughter? He’s getting off easy.”

Vancouver Police Department (VPD) Insp Dave Jones anticipates further arrests in the case by the end of the summer.

“The investigation is not dead,” Jones says. “I remain confident we will have additional people charged in the near future.”

Homicide Det Rob Faoro says the investigation has been long and slow. He, too, anticipates further charges.

“I hope these guys are sweating away out there,” he says.

Faoro says getting the evidence required to press charges has been a lengthy process. The results were slow in coming due to a backlog at the local DNA lab, caused by the mass of evidence in the Robert Pickton alleged serial-killing case, he says.

Webster’s death created a sense of unity in the gay community to take a stand against violence. The day after his death, two thousand solemn queers marched down Davie St to commemorate his life and demand action.

“When I heard that a gay man had been murdered in the park, it was like a knife went into my gut and turned and turned,” Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva told the crowd.

Shortly after Webster’s death, the community safety committee was created. It has lobbied the VPD for greater attention to bashings.

Deva is on that committee. He questions why the plea has taken so long.

“Our community is going to be very attentive to the process. Aaron is going to get some justice,” Deva says. He fears other suspects might use the so-called homosexual panic defence to justify their actions.

“I’m very concerned it’s going to get turned around and Aaron is going to be the person who can’t defend himself in court,” Deva says.

Deva now wants to know how much information the youth gave police about the other participants in Webster’s death and how solid that information will be in court.