EDMONTON — An Alberta woman who was granted a new trial by the Supreme Court of Canada has been sentenced to eight years in prison after she pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the fatal shooting of her domestic partner.
Deborah Doonanco, 58, was initially found guilty of second-degree murder, arson and interfering with human remains after Kevin Feland’s body was found in her home in Glendon, Alta., in May 2014.
She was sentenced to life in prison but appealed her conviction to the Alberta Court of Appeal, which dismissed it. A dissenting opinion by one of three judges gave Doonanco automatic leave to go to the Supreme Court of Canada, which granted the new trial in February.
Doonanco admitted Monday to the lesser charge of manslaughter at Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton.
An agreed statement of facts said Doonanco and Feland had married, divorced and started living together again in late 2012.
“After a short period of relative peace and happiness … Mr. Feland started physically and emotionally abusing Ms. Doonanco,” said the statement, which was read into the court record by Crown prosecutor Photini Papadatou.
She said Feland became addicted to crack cocaine and had gone on a bender one night when he discharged a firearm near Doonanco.
“Ms. Doonanco believed he would kill her,” said the statement.
It said Doonanco asked him to leave the home, but he refused. She entered the living room and took the rifle off the table, which she “recklessly discharged twice, shooting him in the chest.”
The statement said the shooting caused Feland’s death. Doonanco set fire to the room and his body was burned beyond recognition.
“It is acknowledged that at the time of the shooting Ms. Doonanco suffered … from battered wife syndrome,” said Papadatou.
Several victim impact statements were filed as part of the hearing.
Lacey Truss, who had a child with Feland, said his death has been difficult on their daughter Chloe, who’s now a teenager.
“She needs her dad,” Truss said in her statement, which was also read by Papadatou. “Watching Chloe go through this tragedy has been the hardest thing I will ever go through.”
Truss said Doonanco had a choice. “No one is God. She had no right to take him from Chloe.”
Lisa Lundgren, Feland’s sister, added that there are still unanswered questions.
“Our world was turned upside down,” she said in her statement. “We were brought into a hell that we didn’t ask to be brought into. Our lives will never be the same.”
Defence lawyer Brian Beresh said it’s important courts take spousal abuse seriously.
“Mr. Feland wasn’t a single domestic abuser,” he said. “He was a serial domestic abuser.”
Beresh said his client said no family member or friend had ever suggested Feland get counselling for his abusive behaviour or deal with his drug problem.
He added that there’s no doubt Feland’s death is a tragedy.
“We must understand it’s a unique situation which called upon Ms. Doonanco to respond,” said Beresh, who noted Feland fired the first shot.
He said Doonanco was a school teacher in Glendon for years prior to the killing.
Beresh provided supporting letters from others who live in the small community. They described Doonanco as kind, caring and reliable.
“I ask that you take into account how difficult this has been for Ms. Doonanco.”
She went from being a teacher and a citizen to a suspect and an accused, then having to deal with a conviction and multiple appeals, Beresh said.
“This is clearly a tragic event that has rocked a small community,” he said. “It is time for this to heal.”
Justice Peter Michalyshyn accepted a joint recommendation by Beresh and Papadatou for an eight-year sentence, with four years of credit for time served. Doonanco was immediately taken into custody.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2020
Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press