Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for December 10, 2013

Woman says she’s sorry for injuries to officer, custodian

The Yukon Supreme Court heard clashing views Monday as to the threat posed and punishment deserved of a 23-year-old woman involved in the attempted murder of an RCMP officer during a high-speed chase that followed an armed robbery in 2011.

By Christopher Reynolds on December 10, 2013 at 4:40 pm

The Yukon Supreme Court heard clashing views Monday as to the threat posed and punishment deserved of a 23-year-old woman involved in the attempted murder of an RCMP officer during a high-speed chase that followed an armed robbery in 2011.

Jessica Johnson sat in court in a blazer, glasses and neon-green hair elastic for a sentencing hearing as the Crown argued for a seven-year prison term, while the defence recommended no more than five years.

Crown prosecutor Keith Parkkari said denunciation, deterrence and rehabilitation are the goals of the suggested seven-year sentence.

“Ms. Johnson is a moderate risk offender who will require several years of (rehabilitation) programming,” with the eventual goal of “reintegrating into the community,” Parkkari told the court.

Defence lawyer Bibhas Vaze spoke to the “traumatic” environment his client grew up in.

“Ms. Johnson has had an extremely dysfunctional ... life up to this point ... (with) a long history of addiction and drug abuse,” Bibhas said.

“(She is) open to manipulation and easily influenced by others .... She is not an inherently violent person.

“She needs to have the proper chance from here on so that she doesn’t get in these situations again,” he said.

Johnson pleaded guilty in September to four of nine charges arising from an incident on Sept. 26, 2011.

The early-morning events culminated in her then-partner Christopher Cornell firing a bullet from a high-powered rifle through the windshield of the police vehicle driven by Cpl. Kim MacKellar of Haines Junction.

Johnson pleaded guilty to:

• shooting a firearm at MacKellar and conservation officer Shane Oakley;

• wounding MacKellar while he was carrying out his duties as a police officer;

• using a firearm during their escape after committing a robbery; and

• stealing a safe from Madley’s General Store in Haines Junction.

“Especially in the Yukon, there are very few cases that involve shooting at a police officer,” said Justice Leigh Gower.

He reserved judgment until 3 p.m. Thursday.

Johnson pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder of an RCMP officer, among other charges.

Cornell was convicted in October of the attempted murder of an officer along with other counts. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January 2014.

Johnson legally changed her name to Cornell, but said she planned to change it back: “We are no longer in a relationship.”

Johnson stood up near the end of the hearing to read a prepared statement.

“I want to say how sorry I am for the hurt that my participation in the events caused to the community, especially to Haines Junction,” she said.

“I am deeply ashamed.”

Johnson apologized to MacKellar, who was hit in the eyes with bullet fragments and later underwent multiple eye surgeries.

“When I found out about his injuries, I was horrified,” she said, asking for his forgiveness.

She also apologized to Oakley and Madley’s employee Frank Parent, who was jumped, punched in the face and bear sprayed, leaving him with a broken nose.

Johnson told the court she would not have been involved in the incident “if I hadn’t been high on drugs. I am not a violent person .... I never had any intention to hurt anybody.”

The defence pointed to several mitigating factors to justify a shorter sentence.

Vaze highlighted her difficult upbringing, lack of parental oversight and a “vicious cycle” of neglect, mental problems and drug abuse.

These caused her to start drinking alcohol at age eight and using cocaine and heroin at age 12, the defence lawyer told the judge.

“By the time she reaches her early teens, she’s essentially taking care of herself.”

She moved frequently as a child, living in Carmacks, Carcross and Burwash Landing.

Vaze also cited the fact that Johnson was barely 21 when the incidents occurred:

“For youthful accused, longer sentences of incarceration in fact don’t help, but hinder rehabilitation.”

He said a longer sentence could jeopardize Johnson’s faith in the justice system. “One can lose hope the longer the amount of time one is incarcerated.”

The defence also noted a psychological report that states: “Ms. Johnson has difficulty engaging in more complex decision-making .... A risk to reoffend in a violent manner is low.”

Finally, Vaze encouraged a restorative justice approach and fell back on Gladue factors, which allow special considerations for aboriginal offenders based on the adverse background and cultural challenges they face.

“We have to consider the overall systemic racism that has caused this situation,” Vaze said.

The Crown said several aggravating factors demanded a longer sentence, “a disregard for police and for authority.”

Parkkari pointed to a courtroom incident in November 2012 where Johnson tried to pass cocaine to Cornell by throwing it across the courtroom in a baggie while she was on the stand as a witness.

She was promptly arrested, earning herself 10 months in jail.

Johnson was also convicted of the theft of a wallet since the Haines Junction incident.

As for her time in and out of Whitehorse Correctional Centre over the past two years, “there is nothing about the way she has been treated or her behaviour that suggests anything more than one-to-one credit,” Parkkari said.

He was referring to the defence’s attempt to grant Johnson 1.5-to-1 credit for her 14 1/2 months already served in pre-sentence custody.

Enhanced credit would convert that remand time into 22 months, paring down whatever sentence the judge doles out.

The Crown recommended knocking off 14 1/2 months from the suggested seven-year sentence for time already served as well as a mandatory 10-year firearms ban.

CommentsAdd a comment

June Jackson

Dec 10, 2013 at 7:51 pm

I can’t tell any reader here how many people I know with dysfunctional backgrounds and some very brutal histories..yet, somehow they have managed not to rob anyone, not to shoot at policemen..manage to make it to a job, look after their families.

Sing the court a sad story, I am high on drugs, I had a bad childhood etc. Am I happy this psycho will be back in the community in record time? Not so much….

Frank Smiley

Dec 11, 2013 at 4:10 pm

She is sorry but its a little too late.
I agree with June- when you try and hurt innocent people or people just doing their jobs your sorry background should not be relevant- time to go to jail.

Maybe after jail you will be a better person.

MIDNIGHTSUN007

Dec 12, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Hey, She said she was sorry! What more can you ask? O’ Maybe about 10 years federal time?

YukonGal

Dec 13, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I’m sorry, but I do not agree with you. It does make a difference the way someone was brought up, the things they go through in a dysfunctional home can be devastating and have an enormous impact on their future. This young woman obviously had a pretty sad childhood and probably never experienced what it was like to grow up in a normal environment.
Just because you were brought up in a decent home, doesn’t give you the right to judge. You haven’t walked a mile in her shoes, or gone through what she has. This always needs to be considered when passing sentence onto one who has committed a crime. That’s just my opinion anyways.

Max Mack

Dec 13, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Classic defense for a female when involved in serious offenses with a male. “I’m vulnerable. I’m easily manipulated. I never meant to hurt anyone. It’s not my fault. See how Cinderella-like I am.”

And, judging by her sentence, it looks like the court bought it.
Meanwhile, the full wrath and fury of the justice system will fall onto her male accomplice. Mercy will be largely missing, you can be sure.

Always a Yukoner

Dec 16, 2013 at 10:50 am

Yukon Gal you say a normal environment, you find normal on a washing machine.  Everyone has a story about there upbringing.  My childhood upbringing was not the best like everyone else on this planet but I managed to raise a child, keep a full time job, pay taxes and stay out of trouble.  I get sick and tired of everyone pulling the dysfunctional upbringing card for their problems in life.  Let’s just hope she can better herself in the short amount of time she is in jail but I highly doubt it. Criminals are not responsible for their actions and we all pay in the end because it’s a vicious circle!!  The justice system sucks!!

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