THUNDER BAY - A Thunder Bay judge is left to decide the fate of a 21-year-old man who admitted to throwing a metal trailer hitch at an Indigenous woman in January 2017 and whether or not his actions from this day ultimately caused her death more than five months later.
Crown prosecutors and defence lawyers made their closing arguments on Thursday, Nov. 5, to Ontario Superior Court Justice Helen M. Pierce in the high-profile, judge-only trial of Brayden Bushby who faces one count of manslaughter in connection to Barbara Kentner’s death.
Bushby pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault after he threw a metal trailer hitch at Kentner in Jan. 29, 2017 from a moving vehicle which struck her in the abdomen and caused a small bowel rupture as a result. Kentner, a 34-year-old mother from Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation died six months later in July 2017 in palliative care.
Busbhy pleaded not guilty to one count of manslaughter in connection to her death at the start of his trial on Monday, Nov. 2.
READ MORE: Bushby to stand trial for manslaughter, not second-degree murder
Justice Pierce is expected to deliver her reasons for judgement on Dec. 14.
The trial focused on whether or not the Jan. 29, 2017 injury Bushby inflicted on Kentner ultimately contributed to her death on Jul. 4, 2017.
The forensic pathologist who conducted Kentner’s autopsy, Dr. Toby Rose, testified as an expert witness throughout the trial and said Kentner’s cause of death was bronchopneumonia and acute-on-chronic peritonitis due to a traumatic rupture in the small intestine from a blunt force injury to her abdomen.
Rose also said in her autopsy report Kentner’s underlying liver condition was a factor in her death but was not an immediate cause.
Two witness testimonies from a 2018 preliminary hearing were entered as evidence at the trial on Monday, Nov. 2, which revealed details from two friends who were with Bushby at the time of the attack.
In one of the testimonies, Nathan Antoniszyn said Bushby wanted to “drive around and yell at hookers” shortly before the assault on Jan. 29, 2017.
Antoniszyn testified they were driving around out of boredom. At one point, Bushby got out of the vehicle and came back with a trailer hitch in his hands.
When his friends asked why Bushby had the trailer hitch, he stated he was going to throw it through an acquaintance’s window, Antoniszyn testified.
Another 2018 testimony entered into the trial as evidence from witness Jordan Crupi stated Bushby had been drinking whiskey over the course of the day on Jan. 29, 2017.
Nobody else in the vehicle had been drinking, court heard.
Crupi testified he dozed off while they were driving and woke up on two occasions when he heard Bushby getting sick.
Crupi, who was seated behind Bushby, said he fell asleep again and woke up to a loud bang with the other individuals inside the vehicle calling Bushby an “idiot” after he threw the trailer hitch at someone. Both witnesses testified Bushby appeared to be laughing after the incident.
Court also heard testimonies directly from Kentner from a recorded police statement from April 2017 and her older sister, Melissa, who was present when the assault took place during the trial.
Both women stated they were walking home in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2017, when they saw a vehicle coming towards them.
Although Melissa testified she didn’t see her sister get hit herself, she heard the trailer hitch hit the ground afterwards.
Kentner’s sister also testified she saw someone hanging out of the vehicle saying ‘I got one’ after the hitch was thrown.
During closing submissions, Crown prosecutor Andrew Sadler stated the court will have to determine the issue of causation and whether the injury Kentner sustained was a significant contributing factor in her death.
Sadler also stated Bushby’s motive as to why he threw the trailer hitch is not relevant in determining his guilt.
“This issue before the court is whether that act contributed to Barbara Kentner’s death,” he said.
The Crown is relying heavily on Dr. Rose’s testimony and autopsy report.
Rose described Kentner as a "chronically ill and seriously ill woman" during her testimony on Tuesday with a “more or less limited life expectancy”.
Rose also explained how Kentner’s underlying liver disease conditions put her at risk of death even without the traumatic injury and operation she sustained but determined in her autopsy report the injury Kentner sustained on Jan. 29, 2017 ultimately hastened her death.
“She would not have died at exactly the time she died had she not been injured,” Rose said during her testimony.
The crown argued it is nearly impossible to prove anything to an “absolute certainty” but prosecutors are required to prove all elements of an offence beyond a reasonable doubt.
Bushby’s intoxication is also irrelevant in a manslaughter trial but would be relevant at a murder trial, Sadler submitted.
Court also heard Bushby’s moral culpability is still intact despite Kentner suffering from chronic liver disease.
“It may be that someone healthier may have recovered from the same injury, that doesn’t change Mr. Bushby’s culpability,” Sadler said.
Crown also addressed the delay in getting Kentner to the hospital for treatment. Kentner testified she wanted to go to the hospital right after she was hit but stated her sister told her to wait and see how she felt in the morning, regardless, Sadler explained the delay in getting treatment doesn’t remove blame.
Bushby’s defence lawyer, George Joseph reiterated his opening remarks in his closing argument stating this trial was not about race.
“After hearing the evidence, I respectfully submit that fact has been worn out,” Joseph said.
He also quoted a statement Kentner’s sister gave to police when she was asked by an investigator if she felt they were being targeted when the assault took place, to which she replied with ‘no, just people being stupid.’
Joseph said he is certain Bushby threw the trailer hitch from a moving vehicle that struck Kentner in the abdomen and caused a small bowel rupture as a result.
“What I am uncertain of is what finally took Ms. Kentner’s life,” Joseph said, adding at the core of Dr. Rose’s evidence, she also couldn’t precisely say what took her life.
Joseph also spoke of several of Kentner’s medical records which were entered in as exhibits throughout the trial.
Joseph also highlighted Kentner’s surgery to repair her ruptured bowel after the assault on Jan. 29, 2017 was successful and that every hospital visit post her surgery was related to her liver disease and not from complications of her surgery.
“It must not be forgotten it’s not the injury, it’s the infection that contributes to the end of her life,” Joseph said.
“The infection is peritonitis and that has more than one source,” he said.
Bushby will return to court on Dec. 14 for judgement.
Complete coverage of Brayden Busbhy manslaughter trial:
Day 1: Trial for Thunder Bay man accused in 2017 death of Indigenous woman begins'I couldn’t breathe’: Court views police statement of Barbara Kentner after trailer hitch assault
Court hears details of Barbara Kentner autopsy as pathologist testify on day 2 of trial
Pathologist cross-examined by defence
Karen Edwards, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source