News Canada

Teen has fetal alcohol syndrome, defence experts say as sentencing hearing delayed for La Loche shooter

Andrea Hill, Postmedia Network

A condolence book for the public to sign dedicated to the victims of the La Loche, Sask., shooting is displayed on Jan. 25, 2016. (Greg Pender/Postmedia Network)

A condolence book for the public to sign dedicated to the victims of the La Loche, Sask., shooting is displayed on Jan. 25, 2016. (Greg Pender/Postmedia Network)

MEADOW LAKE, Sask. — Closing arguments in the sentencing hearing for the teen who killed four people and injured seven others in La Loche last year were delayed after two defence experts submitted a letter saying the shooter has fetal alcohol syndrome.

Crown prosecutor Lloyd Stang on Friday said he wanted an opportunity to cross examine the two experts before making his closing arguments, which were originally scheduled for Friday at Meadow Lake provincial court. The judge consented and scheduled the cross examinations for Sept. 1. Final arguments may also take place that day.

During sentencing arguments last month, defence psychiatrist Dr. Mansfield Mela told court that he observed symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome in the teen shooter (who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act), but that he couldn't confirm a diagnosis because interviews with the teen's mother about whether she consumed alcohol during her pregnancy provided “inconclusive" information.

Since then, the judge ordered a Gladue report on the teen's background. Such reports provide information about aboriginal offenders' personal backgrounds and, in this case, discussed the drinking habits of the teen shooter's mother.

After seeing that report, Mela and defence psychologist Dr. Monty Nelson wrote a letter to the judge confirming the shooter's fetal alcohol syndrome diagnosis.

La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre, who travelled to Meadow Lake for Friday's court date, said the delay is disappointing.

"A lot of people, I think, want to move this process forward and move onto their healing journey so delaying it again on the defence just adds to that anxiety again," St. Pierre told reporters outside court. "What's the end result here? Is he going to be sentenced as a youth? Is he going to be sentenced as an adult? A lot of people want some closure so it just prolongs that process."

The teen shooter was just weeks away from his 18th birthday, when on Jan. 22, 2016 he shot two people in a home and then opened fire inside La Loche Community School. He pleaded guilty last October to two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of brothers Dayne and Drayden Fontaine, two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of teacher’s aide Marie Janvier and teacher Adam Wood, and seven counts of attempted murder.

Judge Janet McIvor will eventually decide whether to sentence the teen as a youth, which carries a maximum term of six years in custody and four years under supervision in the community, or as an adult, which would result in a sentence of life behind bars.

McIvor said this summer that when she is ready to issue her decision, she will do so in La Loche.

St. Pierre said there are mixed feelings about that.

"There's still some reservations on some members of the community just because of safety or what that might entail depending on the reading of the decision, how that may look or how that may come about," he said.

"But other community members have expressed that they'd rather have it in the community so it's still a toss up, I'm still not sure where that's going to lead and still need to have more consultation."