Two 15-year-old boys charged in a string of violent August assaults in Winnipeg’s inner city that left two people dead are now charged with first-degree murder in one of those attacks.
The teens were originally charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Marvin William Felix, 54, who was found badly injured off Main Street, near the Bell Hotel, around 5 a.m. on Aug. 22. He died three days later.
Prosecutor Erika Dolcetti told a Manitoba court Wednesday the Crown decided to upgrade the charge because evidence suggests the killing was “planned and deliberate.”
The teens appeared separately in the Manitoba Youth Centre court in a Wednesday hearing that mainly dealt with procedural matters. Owing to COVID-19 protocols, the youths were brought before the court individually.
The prosecutor said there’s a no-contact order between the two, but it’s likely they’ll be tried together.
The prosecution has also said they intend to seek an adult sentence for the youths if they are convicted.
Felix’s family have previously said doctors told them the attack left the 54-year-old — who used a wheelchair because of an amputated leg — with severe injuries to his spine, ribs, hips and lower body, as well as a brain injury.
Days after the attack, he was taken off life support and died.
Felix’s sister Cecile Bittern and her husband, Darcy, said the Crown’s decision to upgrade the sentence is a good one, but the family is still grappling with the loss.
“We’re still kind of in a bit of shock, still recovering from it,” Darcy Bittern said in a phone interview.
Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the accused teens can’t be identified.
They’re also charged with second-degree murder in the death of Danielle Dawn Ballantyne, a 36-year-old woman police found dead in an apartment on Jarvis Avenue the same morning Felix was found injured.
They’re also charged with aggravated assault against another man in his 50s, who was found badly injured that same day in a parking lot on Main between Jarvis and Sutherland avenues.
The Winnipeg Police Service said Thursday that man is still in critical condition.
The teens also face a number of charges for other crimes they are alleged to have committed elsewhere in the province.
One teen has charges in Portage la Prairie, and the other has additional charges in both that city and The Pas.
Youth vs. adult sentences for 1st-degree murder
Scott Newman, a criminal defence lawyer in Winnipeg who is not defending either of the youths, said a charge of first-degree murder in Manitoba is unusual — particularly in the case of young offenders.
The charge is more difficult for the Crown to prove, because prosecutors generally have to prove the accused had “set out with the goal of murdering somebody,” he said.
An adult convicted of first-degree murder automatically gets a life sentence, with no chance of parole for 25 years.
A youth first-degree murder sentence is a maximum of 10 years — up to six in custody, followed by a period of supervision in the community.
If a 15-year-old is given an adult first-degree murder sentence, it’s automatically life in prison — but in that case, the teen would be eligible to apply for parole in five to seven years.
A youth sentenced as an adult who receives parole for murder, however — whether it’s first- or second-degree — stays “on parole for the rest of their natural life,” said Newman, and would have to abide by the conditions of their parole.
“The only difference between any of these provisions is how long you have to wait before being released from custody.”
No trial date has been set for the teens. On Wednesday, the Crown indicated there is a lot of information about their cases to be disclosed to the defence before they go to trial.
Disclosure will take place in three stages. The first batch of information was handed over on hard drives in court.
The accused youth both had lawyers present on their behalf.
There were no family members present for either teen. The judge informed the the lawyers that family can attend hearings in person or virtually.
The lawyer for one of the teens said she is in contact with his mother.
At each stage of the hearing, the judge asked each youth whether they understood what was happening, and whether they needed more explanation. When they indicated they did, she broke the discussion down in simple terms.
The judge also asked each defence lawyer to confirm they’d had a chance to talk with their clients before court, and the lawyers confirmed they would speak to their clients after the hearing to make sure they understood what had happened.
The matter will be back before the court in early December.
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