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Second Webster killer going home

Youth to spend last year of sentence with children

The second youth to plead guilty to manslaughter in the brutal 2001 beating death of Aaron Webster will be walking the streets of the Lower Mainland as of Apr 20.

The youth, now 21, appeared in youth court Mar 27 as Judge Jodie Werier detailed the conditions for his release.

The youth has already served two years in a detention centre and will now serve the remaining year of his three-year sentence in the community, under supervision.

In April 2004, Werier labelled the killing a “serious violent offence” when she sentenced the youth.

“You are now to be released into the community,” she said to the youth Monday.

He just nodded as she read his conditions of release.

The youth, who cannot be named under youth criminal legislation, will be living in the basement of his mother’s Burnaby home.

Webster’s family has expressed concern about the placement, since the mother frequently looks after the young children of family and friends.

Werier said she is satisfied the youth can be released into that environment, as long as the parents of the children are advised of the son’s presence and his offence.

The youth’s lawyer, Phil Rankin, took minor issue with the argument.

“It’s not an attack on children,” he said of Webster’s killing. “Because of the nature of the offence, it isn’t logically connected.”

This is the second youth convicted in Webster’s death to be released into the community to finish his sentence.

The first youth was released with conditions in time for Christmas last December. He is now living with his father somewhere in the Fraser Valley.

The second youth had earlier applied for a review of his jail term but Werier refused to consider such a release.

In a similar review last year, the first youth asked for his jail time to be commuted to time in the community too.

Judge Valmond Romilly rejected the first youth’s application, saying it would be “scandalous and perverse” to release him from detention early.

The youths came across Webster, 41, naked but for his boots, near the entrance to Stanley Park’s gay cruising trails in November 2001. They pursued him to his car near Second Beach where he was repeatedly struck with weapons.

A coroner’s report indicated massive bruising all over Webster’s body. The immediate cause of death was an injury to his vertebral artery and trauma due to a beating assault to the head and neck.

The release conditions for both youths are the same.

They are not allowed to possess golf clubs or baseball bats and must also refrain from having alcohol or non-prescription drugs in their possession.

They are also not allowed near Stanley Park or the West End and must abide by a curfew.

They are not allowed to contact any of their co-accused and they must not attempt to contact members of Webster’s family-except to participate in a restorative justice meeting with them.

The second youth must also not contact one co-accused’s brother. A third youth was in the park the night of the killing but never charged.

Werier noted a probation officer’s report which said the youth completed all the required rehabilitation programs, as well as his high school courses, while incarcerated.

The youth now wishes to pursue a trade and eventually live with his girlfriend and their child, who was born while the youth was in jail.

The release hearing took less than 20 minutes.

Webster’s cousin, Fred Norman, called it a “rubber stamp.”

“He’s been declared a dangerous offender and he’s going to be released into a household of children,” he says.

“So much for protecting society,” added his wife, Denise Norman. “It’s frustrating.”

The very fact of the first youth’s release into the community alarmed Jack Herman of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere. On the release of the second youth, he says he’s just disheartened.

“The whole thing has been a travesty of justice from beginning to end,” Herman says. “If there’s no justice or closure for the community in the Aaron Webster case, what encourages victims of crime to come forward and pursue laying charges and going through all the hoops that victims go through?” he asks.

“This is really disheartening.”

After receiving their own sentences in youth court, the two youths testified against their adult co-accused in BC Supreme Court in November 2004.

The youths took the stand against Ryan Cran and Danny Rao as part of a plea deal, but Justice Mary Humphries later dismissed much of their evidence as self-serving and not to be believed.

She then acquitted Rao and convicted Cran of manslaughter.

Though the youths told the court that both adults were active participants in the gay man’s killing, the judge ruled their testimony couldn’t be trusted without corroboration and she could find no such corroboration for Rao.

Cran has now served the first year of his six-year jail sentence. He has filed a notice of appeal but no court date has been set.

Many members of the gay community were outraged that the Crown never characterized Webster’s killing as a gaybashing and did not seek a hate crime designation at Cran’s sentencing hearing-even after Justice Humphries asked several times if there was any more information to be put before her.

“This is of great public concern,” she said at the time. “Am I missing something?”

“No, you have not missed anything,” Crown counsel Greg Weber replied.

When Humphries finally sentenced Cran, she said she had no evidence of Webster’s sexual orientation before her and hadn’t heard any evidence at trial suggesting his killing was a hate crime.