The backgrounds of both a homicide victim and her killer are being weighed by an Edmonton judge who will sentence the man for the 2020 fatal stabbing.
Elliot Tyler McLeod, 37, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of Sheri Lynn Gauthier, 33, earlier this year.
According to an agreed statement of facts, the pair encountered one another downtown and walked together from Churchill Square to Edmonton City Centre mall and then into a parkade at the mall.
In the parkade, McLeod stabbed Gauthier in the back and then the chest before fleeing. Gauthier managed to get into the mall to ask a maintenance worker for help. Security and an ambulance arrived, but she died in hospital less than an hour later.
Court heard that McLeod had been on a methamphetamine binge in the days prior to the deadly attack.
Several of Gauthier's family members and her best friend gathered in a courtroom in Edmonton's Court of King's Bench on Friday to hear sentencing arguments in the case.
Three victim impact statements were filed with the court, each describing the pain and grief McLeod caused when he killed Gauthier, a Cree woman and mother of four children.
One of her sons wrote that he hates McLeod but also that he hopes his mother's killer can learn to love the way that she loved people.
Gauthier's cousin remembered her as being a caring and creative person, who loved to sing, write poems, braid hair and make dream catchers.
Her best friend wrote that Gauthier saved her from abuse as a child by letting her stay at Gauthier's grandmother's house. She wrote she wishes she could have kept Gauthier safe from McLeod.
Crown prosecutor Alex Palamarek began his sentencing submissions by speaking about Gauthier's background – and how as an Indigenous woman her life was marked by the effects of colonialism.
He said Gauthier's family was Cree from Calling Lake and Saddle Lake First Nation, and that she was mostly raised by her grandmother. While she had a family who loved her, she was homeless for periods of time as a teenager, and eventually found herself before the courts.
"She was loved by many," Palamarek said. "She was taken from them by Mr. McLeod."
A memorial was set-up for the ceremony honouring Sheri Lynn Gauthier after she was fatally killed in a stabbed in a parkade near City Centre Mall in 2020. (Stephen Cook/CBC)
The prosecutor told court that Indigenous women are significantly more likely to become victims of crime and violence than non-Indigenous women, and urged Court of King's Bench Justice Larry Ackerl to consider Gauthier's background when sentencing McLeod.
Palamarek and his fellow prosecutor Mary Gillingwater argued that McLeod should serve a 10-year prison sentence because of his high moral culpability.
They argued the attack was without provocation and was deeply violent.
"He stabbed her in the back when she was alone and unsuspecting in an empty parkade," Palamarek said. "He stabbed her once, turned to leave, then came back and stabbed her two more times"
They said McLeod's criminal record and that he fled the scene and hid his clothing and the knife should also be considered aggravating factors.
'Deterrence and denunciation are failing'
But McLeod's defence lawyer Andrew Phypers warned that a 10-year-term would be "business as usual" when it comes to sentencing Indigenous offenders, and urged Ackerl to give serious consideration to Gladue factors in the case.
Gladue reports are pre-sentencing documents that contain information about an Indigenous person's history and family background.
Phypers said McLeod's Gladue report's reveals a childhood marred by both physical and sexual abuse, followed by an adulthood where he was dealing with addiction and homelessness.
Phypers argued for a five-and-a-half year sentence, to be followed by three years of probation during which McLeod could receive treatment.
Whatever the sentence ends up being, McLeod will get about 50 months credit for time served in pre-trial custody.
Phypers said that he's not arguing his client shouldn't serve jail time, but he does believe that incarceration isn't achieving what it's meant to.
"Deterrence and denunciation are failing," Phypers said, adding that Indigenous people remain vastly over-represented in Canadian prisons and jails, and despite the rate of incarceration, Indigenous communities are not getting safer.
"By now, they ought to be very safe. They're not," he said.
McLeod also addressed the court, repeatedly apologizing for killing Gauthier, but stating that he does not expect forgiveness.
"I wish I could trade places and give my life," he said. "Someday I will pay the full price for what I've done."
Ackerl reserved his sentence, and is expected to give it on Jan. 31, 2024.