November 18, 2012 - 3:31 PM
An 18-year-old West Kelowna girl has been found guilty of manslaughter in the stabbing death of 16-year-old Ashlee Hyatt.
The jury returned around 2:20 p.m. today, having deliberated since Friday and found her guilty of manslaughter. Jurors rejected the more serious charge of second-degree murder. A hush came over the 50 or so spectators as the jury foreman said "not guilty" to second-degree murder, but the guilty verdict to manslaughter brought many to tears, including the family of the accused. From the prisoners box, there was little reaction.
Outside the courthouse, Charrie Hyatt, Ashlee Hyatt's mother, said she was prepared for the verdict which is sure to bring a lighter sentence, but said she was ultimately satisfied.
"She has to be accountable for taking a life," Hyatt said. "That is good enough for me."
Flanked by dozens of supporters, Hyatt said she was hopeful the girl—who cannot be named by court order—will be sentenced as an adult. And there begins the next stage in the process. Though convicted of manslaughter, the now 18-year-old killer walked out of court on bail to await another series of hearings. The court convenes again Dec. 3 when the Crown will seek a pre-sentence report and a psychiatric report.
The results of those reports will help the court determine her sentence. Typically, under manslaughter there is no mandatory minimum sentence— the range is anywhere from a conditional sentence served at home to life imprisonment—perhaps less if she is sentenced as a youth.
Ashlee Hyatt was killed at a house party in Peachland in June, 2010 after a booze-fuelled argument gone too far. Hyatt was arguing and fighting with the girl over a rumour and according to one witness, the other girl pulled a knife and threatened to use it. But Ashlee pressed on with the fight and in the melee, she fell to a single stroke of the knife, not jabbed, but brought downward into her neck, severing a major artery and so deep it punctured a lung. She bled to death in the street with her friends around her.
In her defence, the accused appeared to be using the whisky fog of that night to her advantage. She claimed that yes, she fought with Hyatt but that another girl was involved and the other girl must have stabbed Ashlee. Few witnesses could dispute that because they never saw the fatal blow and the physical evidence wasn't compelling.
The case may have come down to the evidence of Mike Baxter, the only one sober and the only witness to the blow itself. Baxter testified at an earlier hearing, but died this autumn in a car crash. The jury only heard audio evidence of the crucial witness.
The jury also found the accused not guilty of several other charges including assault causing bodily harm of another girl.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2012