Charles Jameson “Jamie” Mungo Neel pleaded guilty June 9 to manslaughter in the Sept 29, 2012, death of January Marie Lapuz, 26.
Neel, 21, was initially charged with second-degree murder in connection with the fatal stabbing in Lapuz’s New Westminster home. In pleading guilty to the less severe, included charge of manslaughter, Neel accepts responsibility for causing Lapuz’s death, without admitting any intent to kill her.
“Mr Neel pleads not guilty to the charge of murder but pleads guilty to the included charge of manslaughter,” defence lawyer David Tarnow told BC Supreme Court Justice Frits Verhoeven.
Neel was supposed to begin standing trial by judge and jury on June 9 after initially pleading not guilty in the case. The jury never made it into the courtroom, where Lapuz’s mother sat silently with supporters, two rows behind her child’s killer. She tells Xtra she’s not ready to discuss the case.
Prosecutor Rusty Antonuk told Xtra in June 2013 that the Crown would not be seeking a hate-motivation designation in the case, in the event of a conviction or guilty plea. A hate-motivation designation — assigned at sentencing if the Crown prosecutor can prove that the crime was fuelled, for example, by homophobia — generally carries with it a stiffer penalty.
Antonuk would not discuss the guilty plea outside court.
There were several delays before the court heard the plea, with Neel, clad in glasses, a white shirt and grey slacks, each time being shuffled in and out of the prisoner’s dock.
Verhoeven took pains to ensure that Neel understood the impact of his plea and that the plea was an admission of the elements of the crime.
“You are admitting these facts by entering a guilty plea,” Verhoeven said to Neel. “Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Neel said.
“Do you understand what it means to plead guilty?” Verhoeven asked.
“Yes, I do,” Neel said.
The court will reconvene June 12 to set a date for sentencing.
Verhoeven also ordered the preparation of a Gladue sentencing report, which recognizes that aboriginal people face racism and systemic discrimination in and out of the criminal law system and attempts to deal with the crisis of overrepresentation and inequities of aboriginal people in custody. Such reports contain recommendations to the court about what an appropriate sentence might be and include information about the person’s background, such as history regarding residential schools, child welfare removal, physical or sexual abuse and underlying developmental or health issues such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders or substance use.
Lapuz was remembered at the time of her death as a kind, generous and spiritual person who struggled to overcome persecution.
“January was an amazing person,” friend Alex Sangha said at the time. “She faced so much rejection, so much ridicule, but she was so happy.”
The RCMP integrated homicide investigation team said the New Westminster Police Department was called to assist paramedics with a stabbing victim in the 500 block of 3rd Avenue on Sept 29, 2012. Lapuz was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead at 5:44am.
RCMP Sergeant Jennifer Pound told Xtra that Lapuz “was working in the sex trade to some degree.”
“I believe there was advertisements online,” she said. “It’s a high-risk lifestyle, no doubt about that.”
Pound said Lapuz’s family confirmed her legal name change several days before police released the identification. “She identified as a woman,” Sangha said.
Lapuz’s Facebook page had indicated she was born in the Philippines and spoke English, Tagalog and Chinese. Sangha said Lapuz was adopted and overcame obstacles as an immigrant, as a trans person and as a person living in poverty.
Lapuz was actively involved in the trans and queer immigrant community. In April 2009, she became the first transgender person to hold an executive position with Sher Vancouver, a support group for South Asian gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Sangha said Lapuz treated everyone with respect and dignity, calling her death “a huge loss.”
“She would donate money and food from our fundraisers and social events to homeless people, street youth and hungry people in the Downtown Eastside to my knowledge,” he said.
A preliminary hearing for Neel took place in New Westminster Provincial Court in early June 2012. He has been in custody since his initial bail hearing on Dec 6, 2012.
Spokespeople for the RCMP’s integrated homicide investigation team told Xtra that hate did not appear to be a motive in the case.