Family members of Victoria Lafferty sobbed in a Yellowknife courtroom Tuesday as Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mahar sentenced the man responsible for her death to five and a half years in prison.
Lafferty, 29, died on Oct. 31, 2020. Ahmed Mohamed, 23, eventually turned himself in to police and later pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
The sentence was a joint submission from Crown prosecutor Brendan Green and defence lawyer Nicholas Stooshinoff, who agreed that because facts and details from the incident were "muddied" and unclear, Mohamed may have been acquitted had he "exercised his right" to a trial.
Green read out an agreed statement of facts in court Tuesday. The facts state Mohamed, who was 21 at the time, was trafficking cocaine under the name "Scotty." Lafferty was working for him as a "runner," delivering drugs to buyers in Yellowknife.
Witness statements from the day Lafferty died had "significant contradictions," according to the court record, but the facts state she and two others knocked on Mohamed's door on Gitzel Street with plans to rob him.
Mohamed answered, armed with a knife, and in the ensuing altercation he stabbed Lafferty 13 times.
On Tuesday, Green and Stooshinoff agreed there were mitigating factors in this case, including that Mohamed had been acting from a "defensive position," and that he pleaded guilty early on.
The fact drugs were involved, though, diminishes some of that, Green said.
"He put himself in a dangerous situation," he said.
Green called the five-and-a-half-year sentence "significant," and added it was meant to send messages of denunciation and deterrence to others — two of the principles judges have to consider during sentencing.
"This behaviour won't be tolerated," he said.
Stooshinoff said the sentence was "a good disposition" for the prosecution, and a "reasonable resolution" for the defence and Lafferty's family.
Lafferty's family give victim impact statements
Approximately 10 members of Lafferty's family sat through the hearing. Several sobbed as Green read out six victim impact statements.
One of her sisters, Leona, described her as "vibrant" and "cheerful."
"Life without my sister has not been easy. It has changed me," Leona wrote.
Taralee Lafferty, the victim's cousin, said she is constantly reminded of the murder.
Her mother, Shirley, wrote she is unable to eat, sleep or think.
"I can't believe my daughter was brutally stabbed to death," she wrote. She added that she felt Mohamed's guilty plea should not give him a reduced sentence.
Mohamed spoke briefly. Addressing the court, he apologized to Lafferty's family and said he hopes they will eventually be able to forgive him.
Mohamed's history makes him 'easy prey' for drug trade, says lawyer
Stooshinoff said Mohamed was born in Toronto to Somali refugees, and his single mother raised him in "poverty-stricken circumstances."
Mohamed did "so poorly" in school that his family decided to send him to a boarding school in Africa. He eventually dropped out without receiving "anything equivalent" to a high school education.
Mohamed returned to Canada in 2017 and got a job at a warehouse in Mississauga, Ontario. He was shot while at work, which resulted in him developing an addiction to painkillers. Mohamed soon became "easy prey" for the drug trade, said Stooshinoff.
Stooshinoff said Mohamed has been working toward rehabilitation since being in custody. "He's resumed his GED and almost completed it," said Stooshinoff, and he's had "no troubles" getting along with others in the institution.
"He's not a hardened criminal," said Stooshinoff. He added that he did commit a "horrific crime," but was working to turn his life around.
'No happy ending,' says judge
Justice Andrew Mahar said the case had "no happy ending or decision," but he approved the sentence given the "surrounding factors" and "messy circumstances."
"Is five and a half years long enough to reflect the loss suffered? No. It's not," said Mahar.
He said he hopes the sentence will allow Lafferty's family to move to the next stage of their grief, and that Mohamed would not find himself in a similar position again.
Mahar decried the impact the drug trade has on northern communities.
"[Mohamed is] involved in an ugly business that comes with the risks of extreme violence, and extreme violence resulted," he said.
With a credit of 22 months for time already served, Mohamed has 44 months remaining in his sentence.