Deschenes sentencing: Lawyers wrangle over facts
Lawyers will make their final sentencing arguments in the Mary Deschenes manslaughter case next month.
Lawyers in the Mary Deschenes manslaughter case wrangled over facts last week in preparation for a sentencing hearing in the Nunavut court of justice.
Crown and defence lawyers appeared Jan. 12 at a pre-sentencing hearing for Deschenes, a 40-year-old Iqaluit resident who was found guilty in November of manslaughter in the stabbing death of her live-in boyfriend.
Deschenes, accompanied by a small group of family members, was present in the Iqaluit courtroom where her lawyer, Susan Cooper, argued that Deschenes stabbed 34-year-old Gilles Bergeron in self-defence on April 23, 1999.
Copper, who was first to submit her case to Justice Robert Kilpatrick, emphasized that Bergeron had been hitting Deschenes on the night of the stabbing in the couple’s Iqaluit apartment.
Cooper said when Bergeron appeared in front of her hiding a knife under his arm, Deschenes feared for her life. In a struggle over the knife, Bergeron and Deschenes found themselves on the floor. In fending off Bergeron, Dechenes had then stabbed him, Cooper said.
Cooper said Deschenes’ injuries, including a cut on her finger, were consistent with her testimony during her trial, in which she said she had been defending herself from the much larger Bergeron.
Deschenes had originally been charged with second-degree murder. But the jury, after deliberating for 12 hours, found her guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter.
Cooper said the jury likely produced a manslaughter verdict because they believed that Deschenes was defending herself, but had used excessive force in doing so.
Crown prosecutor Richard Meredith was quick to challenge that assertion. Meredith said the jury convicted Deschenes of manslaughter because they were not convinced she was acting in self-defence when she stabbed Bergeron with a 13-centimetre knife.
In fact, Meredith argued, Deschenes had acted angrily when she stabbed Bergeron. He said Deschenes would have had to use a great deal of force to lodge the knife 15 centimetres into Bergeron’s chest.
A forensic pathologist who gave evidence at her trial said the knife had been driven into his chest past the hilt.
The stabbing, Meredith said, was an act of voluntary aggression, not self-defence.
The Crown argued, as it did in the two-week long trial, that Deschenes was angry with Bergeron and acted on it by stabbing him. Meredith said there’s no evidence that Deschenes feared for her life that night.
He refuted Deschene’s testimony that she had locked herself in the washroom because she was afraid of what Bergeron might do to her. Instead, he said, Deschenes went to the washroom to cool off because she was so angry with him.
Meredith also questioned the holes in Deschenes’ memory of the incidents of that night, saying it was strange she could remember so many details except for the moment when Bergeron was stabbed.
After the hour-long hearing, Justice Kilpatrick set aside the entire day of Feb. 22 for the sentencing hearing. At that hearing, both sides will argue the length of sentencing they think is appropriate for Deschenes. Both lawyers said they will likely call upon witnesses at the sentencing hearing.
A manslaughter conviction carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. There is no minimum sentence for this offence.