A man who pleaded guilty Monday to charges in connection with the May 2017 death of 18-year-old Jade Belcourt in west Edmonton was sentenced on Tuesday afternoon.
Justin Handbury, 33, was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison for the death of Belcourt and for injuring Jordan Cork, Belcourt’s brother.
Belcourt died after he was struck by a pickup truck that smashed into his parents’ backyard in the area of 85 Avenue and 190 Street on May 22, 2017. An autopsy revealed he died from blunt craniocervical spine trauma, and his death was ruled a homicide.
In the days after Belcourt’s death, Handbury was charged with second-degree murder and attempted murder, but police said “new information” led investigators to withdraw the charges.
Handbury was then charged with several other offences, including criminal negligence causing death, dangerous driving causing death, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, dangerous driving causing bodily harm, possession of a stolen truck, driving while disqualified and possessing incendiary material (gasoline) for the purpose of committing arson.
In court on Monday morning, the same day his 10-day jury trial was supposed to begin, Handbury pleaded guilty to unlawfully operating a motor vehicle in a dangerous manner causing death. He also pleaded guilty to unlawfully operating a motor vehicle in a dangerous manner, resulting in bodily harm to Cork.
According to the agreed statement of facts, Handbury was supposed to be on house arrest and didn’t have a valid driver’s licence at the time of the crime. He was driving a stolen truck when he arrived at the house with a backpack full of cash, methamphetamine and shatter, according to the court document.
Handbury, Belcourt and his older brother consumed meth and shatter in the garage. Cork and Belcourt planned on robbing Handbury of his drugs when he arrived, and Cork and Handbury got into a fight when Handbury refused to hand over the remaining drugs, the agreed statement of facts reads.
Handbury fled, but Belcourt chased after him with a baseball bat, smashing the passenger side of the windshield. Belcourt then walked back into the yard before Handbury drove into the yard, running down the fence and Belcourt.
Belcourt was run over a second time when the truck fled the scene. Cork was injured by flying debris from the fence.
Family members for both the victim and the accused were in court Tuesday.
Belcourt’s family and friends read victim impact statements.
“Moving forward in life without my Jade is unbearable,” said his mother Rhonda Belcourt. She wore a shirt that said “Justice for Jade.”
Rhonda said her son moved to Edmonton for trade school to learn flat roofing.
“I ask God, why did this happen to my son Jade? He was just beginning his life… I would have taken his place in a heartbeat.”
She said the family had to leave Edmonton because it was too hard to live in the city after her son’s death.
Cork told court his younger brother loved video games, was funny and wanted his family to all be together.
“Losing Jade left a hole in my life. I never truly knew what loss was until I lost him.”
Skylar, Jade’s youngest brother, said he has nightmares and is often scared. Still, he “treasures… the memories you left behind.”
Handbury’s wife was in court for the sentencing decision.
His defence lawyer said Handbury, a father of three, wants to go to Bowden Institution to learn a trade like welding.
Handbury addressed the court but Belcourt’s parents were overcome with emotion and stepped out.
“I know sorry doesn’t go far in a courtroom,” Handbury said. “Addiction fuelled this and you all forced me into a bad situation.
“I’m not a monster or a bad person. I’m a loving father and husband. I’m a human. I make mistakes… I’m sorry things worked out that way. Nobody, including me, deserved what happened that day.”
Lawyers had submitted a joint sentence that would include three years and nine months behind bars, less 420 days of credit for time served. It would also include a five-year driving prohibition.
The judge called the victim impact statements sobering.
“Nobody can replace a life that is lost,” the judge said before reading the sentence. “He said he’s sorry and I believe him.”
— With files from Global’s Sarah Ryan