The man found guilty of manslaughter in the 2020 death of mother-of-two Billie Johnson has been handed a 13-year prison sentence.
Kenneth Courtorielle was sentenced in an Edmonton courtroom Friday afternoon, after being found guilty of manslaughter last September. With credit for time served, Courtorielle has 10 years and three months left in his sentence.
The Crown had sought a 15-year sentence for Courtorielle, while the defence asked for a sentence of 10.5 years. Courtorielle was also given a lifetime weapons prohibition.
Johnson, 30, disappeared on Dec. 24, 2020. Portions of her remains were found in a field north of Edmonton, near Bon Accord, four months later.
In court earlier Friday, several victim impact statements were heard.
Johnson’s mother, Marless Johnson, held an eagle feather and pictures of her daughter as she read her statement to the court.
“My daughter was full of life,” she said. “She had something wonderful and special the day she was born.”
Marless said she’s had many sleepless nights since her daughter’s death.
“For your child to go missing and then found in pieces four months later is a different type of PTSD,” she said.
“I was determined to bring my baby home. … I would talk to her spirit and tell her, ‘Mommy is coming for you.’”
Marless said she will never recover from Billie’s death, and wants justice.
“You robbed me of my first born in the worst way,” she said.
“You didn’t just murder my daughter, you murdered our whole family.”
Marless was quite emotional after the judge handed Courtorielle his sentence. She screamed at Courtorielle as he was taken away, and tried to charge at him. The sheriffs told her he wasn’t worth it.
She described the sentence as “a slap in the face.”
“This guy still got only 13 years … When he’s out in five and he hurts somebody else, then that’s on them… that person needs life (in prison),” Marless said.
“The fight is not over. This is not done. I promised her I was going to get her justice. This is not justice.”
Johnson’s sister Arianne Snakeskin’s victim impact statement was read by a lawyer. In it, she said she feels so angry that she’s withdrawn from a lot of people. She said she suffers from PTSD, which affects her ability to interact with others.
“I love you,” Snakeskin’s statement read. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there more and I couldn’t protect you.”
During the trial, the defence argued Courtorielle and Johnson did drugs together before she passed out with blood coming from her nose and mouth.
The defence said Courtorielle panicked and dropped her body in a field by some trees. The Crown argued that Johnson was punched in the face and that Courtorielle hid her body deep in the woods.
In his decision, Justice Steve Hillier said he considered “all the evidence adduced at trial, including the after-the-fact conduct.”
The justice said he was “convinced, from the evidence, that Ms. Johnson died as a result of one or more blows to her face by the accused, which broke her nose and damaged her crown tooth.”
During the trial, court heard Johnson’s blood was found in Courtorielle’s apartment, in the bedroom and living room. It was also found in a Dodge truck, even after it was washed.
“Although there is no evidence of intent to cause serious bodily harm to Ms. Johnson, this unlawful act of applying force to her face without consent was objectively dangerous. I am satisfied that the unlawful assault caused or substantially contributed to Ms. Johnson’s death,” Hillier wrote in his decision.
In court Friday, a lawyer read Michelle Howser’s victim impact statement. She is a representative from Maskwacis. She said Billie’s death devastated the First Nations community south of Edmonton.
“The shock, grief,” Howser said. “There’s been collective mourning.
“In the face of this tragedy, our community demands justice.”
The Samson Cree Nation submitted a victim impact statement, saying Johnson’s death had a “chilling effect” on women, in particular, the women of Samson Cree Nation.
“This case has touched a nerve for many, some of whom have suffered from domestic violence themselves,” the statement read.
“Reviewing the circumstances of this case has brought about a renewed desire to raise awareness amongst our members so that we can better protect ourselves and our loved ones from abuse and exploitation.
“We hold dearly our loved ones, our sacred laws and our traditions and trust that justice will prevail.”
Court advocate Lucy Johnson said she would have liked to see First Nations leaders in court supporting the family through this.
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“Where are you?” she asked.
“Across Canada every day, every day we hear something about our native sisters going missing, murdered, generations after generations being harmed. When does it stop?
“It’s the time and place where we’ve got to start speaking up on behalf of the ones that don’t have a voice or won’t speak up,” Lucy said.
After the victim impact statements were heard, Courtorielle addressed the court, saying: “I am sorry. That’s it.”
In Canada, there is no minimum sentence for manslaughter. The maximum sentence is life in prison.
Prosecutor Jim Stewart said the 13-year sentence was within the range the Crown identified as “proportionate” and called it “appropriate.”
“It’s satisfying to get to the point where you have a very reasoned, learned decision by Justice Hillier that adds finality to this tragic case,” he said after the decision Friday.
“So often the outcome of a case of a missing or murdered Indigenous woman or girl is that it’s unsolved. It remains that horrible absence of information forever,” Stewart said. “Here, there was a case where the fact that she was missing was reported to the police and the police got going on it immediately. And as soon as they had searched that apartment and found the blood scene, it became a homicide investigation.”
— with files from Sarah Komadina, Karen Bartko and Emily Mertz, Global News