Darryl Sheepway has been found guilty of second-degree murder in the August 2015 shooting death of Christopher Brisson.
The 39-year-old Whitehorse man had been facing a first-degree murder charge but had wanted to plead guilty to manslaughter.
During the trial in late 2017, he admitted to shooting and killing Brisson, 25, at a pullout on the McLean Lake Road, yet claimed Brisson’s death wasn’t intentional nor planned.
Yukon Supreme Court Justice Leigh Gower announced the verdict in the case Tuesday afternoon.
He found that Sheepway had intended to kill or cause bodily harm to Brisson likely to cause death, saying the fatal shooting had been “no accident.”
However, he found there was not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Sheepway had planned or contemplated the consequences of the murder.
Brisson’s father, Rock Brisson, who sat throughout the judge-only trial which spanned from Nov. 6 to Dec. 8, 2017, said he was exhausted but happy the delivery of the verdict was over.
“It’s not the first-degree murder but second-degree, I’m OK with that,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.
“At least it’s going to an end and at least everybody, my daughters and me, we can move on with our life.”
He said the biggest relief for him is knowing that his son didn’t suffer. Testimony from the pathologist who performed Brisson’s autopsy revealed that he had died within a matter of minutes after being shot.
“That’s the main thing. It’s hard to sit in the court, but at least I know what happened,” Rock Brisson said.
But he noted “we’ll never know the whole truth” about his son’s death adding that only Sheepway truly knows what happened on the afternoon of Aug. 28, 2015.
While delivering reasons for his decision Tuesday afternoon, Justice Gower noted the case was unusual, as most of the evidence came from Sheepway himself.
During trial, the court was shown a video re-enactment Sheepway had made with RCMP officers in October 2016, of events on the day of Brisson’s murder.
He also testified in his own defence, recounting many of the same details.
While many of the facts were agreed upon, Crown prosecutor Jennifer Grandy argued where Sheepway’s evidence was uncorroborated, it should be disregarded, noting “fairly extraordinary credibility and reliability issues.”
Defence lawyer Lynn MacDiarmid, however, advocated for her client’s credibility.
Without his admissions, she said, the Crown wouldn’t have been able to put together its case.
According to Sheepway’s testimony, he had been coming down from a crack cocaine binge and had no access to money when he contacted Brisson that afternoon.
He said he had been meeting Brisson almost daily to purchase the drug that month, detailing a daily crack cocaine habit that quickly escalated from $50 worth, or about half a gram, to $300 to $500 worth.
On the day of Brisson’s murder, Sheepway said, he’d wanted drugs to help him build up the courage to kill himself.
He noted his addiction was spiralling out of control. That morning, his then-wife had discovered he had been taking out cash advances on her credit card.
When he was only able to secure $50 worth of crack cocaine on credit from Brisson, Sheepway claimed he hatched a plan to rob the man.
He said he thought Brisson would hand over whatever drugs he had when he raised his shotgun, but claimed that Brisson grabbed the barrel and they struggled over it.
During the alleged struggle, Sheepway said two shots went off accidentally in the cab of Brisson’s truck.
When Sheepway was able to regain control of the weapon, he said Brisson drove forward.
In response, he leaned out of his truck window and fired a third shot into the back of Brisson’s cab.
Brisson’s truck then sped backwards and crashed into the bush on the opposite side of the road, ejecting him from the vehicle.
Sheepway’s testimony was contradicted by that of expert forensic firearms analyst Joseph Prendergast, who had examined Brisson’s truck.
He concluded that at least two shots had been fired through the back of the cab, one striking Brisson and the other exiting through the windshield.
Findings from an autopsy indicated that Brisson died from “catastrophic blood loss” from a shotgun slug that entered through the back of his left shoulder and travelled to the right side of his jaw.
Defence co-counsel Vincent Larochelle had argued the hole in the truck’s windshield could have been caused by a tree branch, small tree or rock during the crash. Grandy, however, called that theory “fanciful”.
Justice Gower agreed with her assessment.
He said while he was willing to give Sheepway the benefit of the doubt that the first shot may have been accidental, he was satisfied two shots had been deliberately fired at the back of Brisson’s cab.
The natural consequences of those two shots, he added, would have been death or serious bodily harm to Brisson.
He also noted evidence from a woman who had used crack cocaine with Sheepway and testified that he had confessed to her. She claimed Sheepway told her he shot Brisson and that it had not been accidental.
MacDiarmid and Larochelle had also argued that Sheepway had been in an “abnormal” mental state at the time of the murder due to his dependency on crack cocaine.
They relied on evidence from forensic psychiatrist Dr. Shabehram Lohrasbe, who testified Sheepway would have been hyperreactive and unable to foresee the consequences of his actions.
Crown expert Dr. Phillip Klassen, however, testified that Sheepway would not have been experiencing “cognitive inference” from his drug use at the time of the shooting.
Gower noted that evidence of intoxication is “minimal at best” when it comes to mitigating a murder conviction.
He said he did not believe Sheepway’s claim that he was not thinking when he shot Brisson. He noted numerous examples where Sheepway had shown linear, goal-directed behaviour before and after the shooting.
That included returning to the scene to move Brisson’s body to a hill overlooking Miles Canyon. Brisson was found in the wooded area by a mushroom picker on Sept. 1, 2015.
But Gower did accept that Sheepway’s mental state would have been affected enough that he did not plan the murder nor examine its potential consequences and benefits.
Now that Sheepway has been convicted, defence and Crown counsel will have to make arguments for sentencing.
A second-degree murder charge in Canada carries a sentence of 10 to 25 years’ incarceration time.
Comparatively, a first-degree murder charge carries a mandatory life sentence, whereas manslaughter with the use of a firearm carries a sentence of four to 25 years.
Dates for sentencing on the matter are expected to be set on Feb. 6.