Pelly Crossing sisters sentenced for charges related to 2017 murder of Derek Edwards

·5 min read
The entrance to the dance hall in Pelly Crossing, Yukon. The hall was transformed into a makeshift courtroom on June 20 for the sentencing of sisters Charabelle and Lynzee Silverfox in relation to the 2017 murder of Derek Edwards in the community. (Jackie Hong/CBC  - image credit)
The entrance to the dance hall in Pelly Crossing, Yukon. The hall was transformed into a makeshift courtroom on June 20 for the sentencing of sisters Charabelle and Lynzee Silverfox in relation to the 2017 murder of Derek Edwards in the community. (Jackie Hong/CBC - image credit)

Warning: This story contains graphic content.

Tensions ran high in Pelly Crossing Monday as the community dance hall was transformed into a makeshift courtroom for the sentencing of two sisters in relation to the 2017 murder of Derek Edwards.

Yukon Supreme Court Justice Edith Campbell, in line with a joint sentencing submission from the Crown and defence, sentenced Charabelle Silverfox to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years.

Silverfox pleaded guilty to second-degree murder earlier this year, admitting to stabbing Edwards in the chest and shooting him in the head with a bow during a violent group attack after she woke up to him allegedly attempting to pull her pants down after a day of heavy drinking.

With credit for time already spent in jail, she'll be able to apply for parole in about seven years. She'll also be subject to a 20-year-long firearms prohibition.

Younger sister Lynzee Silverfox, meanwhile, was sentenced to 30 months in jail followed by three years of probation for indignity to human remains after admitting to punching Edwards' body.

With credit for time spent in pre-trial custody, she only had 24 days left behind bars as of Monday.

About 60 people filtered in and out of the hall throughout the day; the majority were relatives or friends of Edwards, who largely sat in the rows of folding chairs set up behind the Crown's table.

A handful of supporters for the sisters, including their parents, sat behind the defence.

A portrait of Edwards was set up at the front of the room.

'The emotional scar that this leaves is a very difficult one for everyone'

Eleven victim impact statements were filed, with relatives of Edwards remembering him as a hard worker who loved dogs and making people laugh.

"I miss Derek very much — he was my first cousin but he was like a little brother to me," George Magrum told the court.

"He always made me smile, even when I didn't feel like it. The world is full of mean, miserable people, but Derek wasn't one of them."

Edwards' oldest sister, Marion, said in a statement read by a victim services worker that her family had suffered a number of deaths in recent years, but the circumstances of Edwards' death "makes it worse… It's still hard to think about it to this day."

She described Edwards as a soft, kind-hearted person who took good care of his nieces and nephews, giving every single one of them a nickname. He was the one she called whenever she needed help, she said, and she even missed him coming around to bum money for cigarettes.

"I'm glad my mom has already passed because this would have killed her," her statement said. "Alcohol has taken over our family."

Several of the statements expressed a desire for the Silverfox sisters to never return to Pelly Crossing and also touched on the hurt and division in the community of approximately 400, where many are related to both the Silverfoxes and Edwards.

"I am fearful for our future, not knowing what is waiting for us," Edwards' cousin, Eugene Alfred, said in his statement.

"It's hard to believe this kind of crime happened in our community … The emotional scar that this leaves is a very difficult one for everyone."

A community impact statement submitted by Selkirk First Nation, of which both the Silverfox sisters and Edwards are citizens, included reflections from community members who said the murder "literally rocked the community, flipped it upside down, it split it down the middle."

The 12 people interviewed for the statement reported shock, fear and anger, with people "picking sides," experiencing vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue, and turning to drugs and alcohol to cope.

"Hard drugs, they're doing now," one person said. "They're dying from it."

Community members also said it was difficult to drive by Charabelle's home, where Edwards was murdered. The house later burned down; one person said "it felt like it was a good thing."

'I'm just sorry'

In legal submissions, Crown attorney Leo Lane told the court Charabelle had brought "darkness" to the community. Aggravating factors, he said, included Charabelle's criminal record — she had previous assault convictions and was on probation at the time of the murder — as well as the "horrific injuries" she inflicted on Edwards.

Charabelle's lawyer, Jennifer Cunningham, meanwhile, highlighted that Charabelle was "genuinely remorseful" and has had "very difficult life circumstances," including experiencing physical and sexual violence, going through the foster care system and dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues from a very young age.

If granted parole, Cunningham said, Charabelle, a mother of three, would want to get back onto the land to live a "traditional lifestyle," and is also interested in getting more counselling to ensure she's never violent again, including going to an Indigenous healing lodge when possible.

Charabelle declined to speak before being sentenced.

For Lynzee, Lane described the assault on Edwards' body as a "despicable and cowardly act," and also noted that she had a criminal record including three assaults and manslaughter, though the latter happened after the murder.

In her submissions, defence lawyer Jennifer Budgell pointed to Lynzee only being 24 and said in her three years at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, she had completed every program available. Like Charabelle, Lynzee also experienced violence starting from a young age, Budgell said, but wants to continue counselling and treatment as well as return to the land.

Lynzee also hopes to attend college or university one day to become a youth counsellor, Budgell said, so she can steer teens away from the path she ended up on.

Lynzee took the opportunity to speak before getting sentenced.

"I'm sorry to my community," she said, turning to face the hall.

Her words triggered groans and swearing from Edwards' relatives, with a number storming out.

Lynzee began crying and sat down, but Campbell encouraged her to finish speaking.

"I'm just sorry," Lynzee said while sobbing.

The court took a break before Campbell formally sentenced the sisters.

Cheers and applause broke out as Campbell sentenced Charabelle to life, drawing a sharp verbal reprimand from the judge.

Charabelle and Lynzee were allowed to hug their relatives before being taken away by court staff.

As people cleared out of the dance hall, one person yelled "Justice for Derek!"

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