An Alberta appeals court has reduced an 11-year manslaughter sentence to seven years for a man who fatally shot a Ponoka man in 2019.
In January, Red Deer provincial court Judge Jim Hunter sentenced Tyler John Campbell to 11 years for shooting Jeffery Kraft, 20, point blank in the chest with a shotgun on a rural road near Lacombe on Dec. 15, 2019.
Campbell had earlier pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a firearm in November 2020. The Crown prosecutor and defence lawyer submitted a joint sentencing submission of seven years in February 2021.
However, Hunter rejected that punishment on three separate occasions and sentenced Campbell to 11 years for manslaughter and four months for unrelated charges of possession of stolen property under $5,000 and failing to comply with a court order.
In August, Campbell appealed the sentence. The appeal was heard Dec. 13 by a three-judge panel and their decision allowing Campbell’s appeal and reducing his sentence was released on Monday.
The judges said that Hunter overlooked the importance of it being agreed Campbell did not know the shotgun was loaded, he did not intend to pull the trigger and the shooting was accidental.
“It was agreed that the unlawful act underlying the manslaughter was ‘pointing a firearm’, not, for example, ‘carelessly discharging a firearm’ or ‘assault with a weapon,’” say the judges in their decision.
“The sentencing judge drew overly negative inferences from some of the agreed facts which coloured his conclusion that the joint submission was so unhinged from the circumstances of the offence and the offender as to be contrary to the public interest.”
According to an agreed statement of facts, Kraft was driven by a woman to a rural road near Lacombe on the night he was killed. When they arrived, the female driver got out and opened the trunk. Campbell climbed out of the trunk and confronted Kraft with a 12-gauge shotgun. The gun went off and Kraft was fatally hit in the chest at close range.
Hunter said in sentencing that he viewed Campbell’s acts that night as “near murder.”
However, the appeal court judges disagreed, given that Campbell did not know the gun was loaded and did not intend to shoot it.
“While pointing the firearm clearly engaged the underlying risk of an accidental discharge, the subsequent manslaughter cannot reasonably be categorized as ‘near murder.’”
The judges said the issue before them was not whether Hunter’s sentence was unfit or would have been reversed on appeal.
The issue is “whether the joint submission was so outside the reasonable sentencing range as to bring the administration of justice into disrepute or otherwise be contrary to the public interest.
“Even if one might convincingly argue that the sentence was lenient, it was not so unhinged from the facts that the joint submission should have been rejected.”