A Red Deer judge has rejected a proposed seven-year manslaughter sentence for a man who shot a Ponoka man to death with a shotgun in December 2019.
In a rare move in a case involving a serious crime, Judge Jim Hunter rejected the joint submission from the Crown prosecutor and defence lawyer on Thursday morning. The judge said the sentence could be seen as “unhinged from the facts” and lead to a breakdown and loss of confidence in the administration of the courts.
Tyler John Campbell, 28, pleaded guilty last November for shooting Jeffery Kraft, 20, in a supposed dispute over owed money on Dec. 15, 2019.
Kraft was in the car with two other people in northeast Lacombe when Campbell climbed out of the trunk and confronted him with the 12-gauge shotgun, which went off, hitting Kraft in the right chest.
Campbell, who is from Lacombe, drove Kraft to Lacombe hospital where he dumped him in the parking lot. Kraft later died from his injuries.
Campbell and his girlfriend, Amie Joanne Rogers, 21, who was also in the car, were each initially charged with second-degree murder, robbery with a firearm and conspiring to commit an offence.
All charges were dropped against Rogers when a key witness, who had also been in the car, could not identify her in court at the preliminary hearing.
Campbell’s charge was later reduced to manslaughter and the robbery and conspiring charges were dropped.
About two dozen friends and family of Kraft gathered outside the Red Deer provincial courthouse Thursday morning.
Holding signs and many wearing T-shirts with a picture of Kraft, the supporters called for the maximum sentence for Campbell.
After hearing of the judge’s decision, family members were pleased that Campbell could be in line for a stiffer sentence but said further delay will add to the family’s emotional toll.
Outside court, Kraft’s sister Caitlin Kraft, said the family is grateful the judge rejected the seven-year sentence.
“It puts a little more hope into the justice we are seeking for Jeff,” said Kraft.
“If this were to be over we’d start to feel better. But since it’s not and there’s more time being sought for a sentence I would relive this over and over.”
The justice system journey has been hard on the family, she said.
“It is exhausting and it is crippling to have to relive everything. To go every day without my brother is very, very hard.”
Jeffery’s mother, Carrie Cocke, said she was too angry outside court to speak. She and other family members and supporters are furious that Crown prosecutors did not pursue a lengthier sentence for Campbell.
The Kraft family and their supporters feel the justice system ignores victims of crime.
“There needs to be a movement started where people are getting active in what’s happening in our court system,” said Linda Lauer, an aunt and spokesperson for a group called Justice For All.
“Quit blaming the police for not getting people into jail. We need to get the court systems themselves working with sentences that reflect the crimes.”
“To hear that there is somebody out there standing up for victims is huge,” she said of Hunter’s decision.
“There are so many rights for the offenders and the criminals. They seem to have more power in the courtroom than the family of the victims.”
Crown prosecutor Ed Ring said while it was an “admittedly horrific offence” manslaughter was the appropriate charge and seven years is the correct penalty.
Significant weight was given to the guilty plea, which avoided a trial in which there is a “significant risk” that Campbell may not be found guilty.
Defence lawyer Michael Scrase said that Campbell did not intend to shoot Kraft and did not know the shotgun was loaded.
“The Crown and defence agree this was a non-intentional situation,” he told the judge.
Campbell claimed that the gun went off when Kraft tried to move it away as it was being pointed at him.
Judge Hunter, who first refused to accept the joint submission in court on Feb. 3, said “absolutely none of this” was in the agreed statement of facts that backed up the joint submission.
Hunter said that under the law he must now give Campbell the opportunity to make an application to withdraw his guilty plea and plead not guilty.
Whether that is accepted will be up to Hunter when the case returns to court next Thursday. If Campbell declines to apply to withdraw his guilty plea or the judge does not accept it sentencing will go ahead. If the not guilty plea is accepted another trial before a judge from outside the area could follow.