Warning: Graphic details in this story will be disturbing to some readers.
Shooting a young mother in the head while her son and two other children watched TV in the next room should yield a life sentence for a Rocky man with no parole eligibility for 15 years, argued Crown prosecutor Greg Gordon Tuesday.
Marshall Lawrence Stone previously pleaded guilty to the second-degree murder of Ashley Ames, 28, in Red Deer’s Court of Queen’s Bench.
The young Rocky Mountain House mother died on the floor after being shot twice in the head while trying to protect her sister, Alexis, who was Stone’s common-law partner.
Stone also previously pleaded guilty to the unlawful use of a firearm with intent to cause injury or disfigurement in relation to his actions towards Alexis.
Under the Criminal Code, he faces a life sentence without parole eligibility between 10 and 25 years for second-degree murder.
Gordon recommended a heightened parole eligibility of 15 years, citing several egregious factors about the domestic violence incident that occurred on July 26, 2019 at a townhouse in Rocky.
According to an agreed statement of facts, Stone arrived home after drinking between five and eight beers and got into an argument with Alexis in the kitchen of their townhouse.
Three children under the age of 11 — belonging to the couple, as well as the young son of Alexis’ sister Ashley — were watching TV in the living room.
Gordon told Justice Monica Bast that the presence of the children in the home should increase the severity of Stone’s sentence — and so should the fact that Stone had to go downstairs to get a rifle.
While the subsequent shootings were not premeditated, the Crown argued they were also not spontaneous acts. Stone had to bring the weapon upstairs, and also managed to load a left-hand rifle — which belonged to Stone’s 10-year-old daughter — although he was right handed, showing determined intent, added Gordon.
Both sisters were in the kitchen when Stone pointed the rifle at his partner Alexis, who deflected the barrel and avoided being hit the first time he fired.
Stone reloaded and again aimed at Alexis — but Ashley stepped in front of her sister as Stone fired. Ashley was struck with a .22 calibre bullet through her left eye.
According to the statement of facts, Ashley fell to her knees crying, and the children ran out the door, calling for help.
The court heard Alexis then hit Stone with a chair and received a cut to her forehead before escaping out the door.
She later told RCMP officers that her sister Ashley had been alive inside the townhouse when she left. But Stone later admitted to returning to Ashley, who had been lying on her stomach on the kitchen floor and firing a second bullet into the back of her head, killing her.
Gordon told the court that this “callous” act should elevate the length of Stone’s prison sentence before he could be considered for parole. Emergency workers found Ashley without vital signs. A later autopsy found the first shot through her eye was potentially survivable, but the second shot instantly killed her.
Stone turned himself in to the Rocky RCMP detachment that same evening. He told police he had little memory of the shooting.
The Crown took into consideration Stone’s steady employment, his previous volunteerism as an auxiliary police officer and firefighter, and mitigating circumstances due to his Indigenous background. But Gordon believes aggravating factors in the crime still call for a lengthier jail sentence before Stone can apply for parole.
The prosecutor also called for a lifetime prohibition against Stone owning or operating firearms, and a four-year concurrent sentence for the second charge of unlawful use of a firearm.
While Stone’s habitual use of alcohol — his only previous criminal charge was for impaired driving — caused him to act violently, being impaired is not an excuse under the law, Gordon added.
On Tuesday, Alexis chose to give a victim impact statement in writing and not have it read in court. Stone’s lawyer, Walter Raponi, later told the court that Alexis has found forgiveness for what happened, concluding the shootings were out of character for Stone, and that she would not prevent future visits with his children as he is a “great father.”
Ashley’s best friend read her own victim impact statement. She recounted having to be hospitalized for depression after Ashley’s untimely death. To have an “amazing woman” killed by someone who was considered to a family member is particularly “disgusting and unforgivable,” added the woman.
Raponi agreed with almost all of the Crown’s sentencing recommendations — except he said his client should have to serve 12 years of a life sentence before being granted parole eligibility.
Raponi disagreed with Gordon’s contention that there was pre-planning to this incident. Raponi said it was a “spur-of-the-moment” crime, fuelled by alcohol that changed his client’s personality.
Stone is “deeply remorseful” about his actions and acknowledges he has victimized many people, said Raponi. “He calls it a horrific thing, very overwhelming…. he says he is disgusted with himself for taking a life.”
Raponi noted his client was strapped for speaking Cree and was bullied in school, also had early exposure to alcohol and was sexually abused as a child. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Stone turned himself in, spared the family a trial with his guilty pleas. He’s also shown “exemplary” behaviour since — with relatives stating they will support him whenever he’s released.
Stone told the court that he’s very sorry for everything that led him “to be here today.” He said he never intended to hurt anyone and is very apologetic to the families involved.
Raponi added that Stone’s been sober for 25 months and is doing what he can to support his kids — who are in counselling — and to try to make amends.
Justice Bast will announce her sentencing decision at 2 p.m. on Oct. 15.