In 2014, Keenan McNeely brutally murdered Charlotte Lafferty in Fort Good Hope. On Tuesday, nearly five years after the killing, he admitted wrongdoing for the first time.
“I pray everyday I can be forgiven. I made a big mistake,” said McNeely, 23, reading from a written letter as he stood in a prisoner’s booth in a Yellowknife courtroom, his parents sitting close behind.
“I hope one day Charlotte’s family can forgive me,” he said.
McNeely made the comments in the NWT Court of Appeal.
McNeely was convicted of first-degree murder after trial, and in 2017, he was sentenced by Justice Louise Charbonneau to life with no chance of parole for 10 years.
McNeely was 17 when he sexually assaulted and beat Lafferty to death in March of 2014.
He was sentenced as an adult.
Lafferty, a young mother, was only 23.
McNeely appealed his adult sentence, as well as his placement in a federal prison – he’s currently incarcerated at a maximum security prison in Edmonton – arguing he should be housed in a territorial facility.
In December, a judge granted McNeely legal representation for his appeal, and an Ottawa-based lawyer, John Hale, was appointed through legal aid.
Hale, at the beginning of proceedings on Tuesday, told the court he could no find errors in Justice Charbonneau’s sentencing decision.
Shortly after McNeely made his comments to the court – he said he using alcohol to cope with the death of his sister when he murdered Lafferty – the appeal panel, made up of three members, returned with a unanimous decision to dismiss his appeal.
The panel ruled Justice Charbonneau had made no errors in sentencing McNeely as adult, calling her assessment of the case “thorough,” and “exemplary in every way.”
The panel, noting the fact they believed no one had ever served a life sentence at a territorial facility, said a territorial jail would be ill-suited to house an inmate, such as McNeely, who has “displayed this level of brutality.”
McNeely, the panel ruled, needs “serious long-term intervention” if he’s to be released without posing a threat to the public.
‘It’s been a long, long, long road’
Charlotte Lafferty’s mother, Louisa Lafferty – sitting front row in court – broke down in tears, smiling and hugging a support worker tightly following the decision.
Outside of the Yellowknife courthouse, she told reporters the legal proceedings have made for a “long, long, long, road,” and that she was happy it was all over.
“Happiness isn’t even the word,” Lafferty added.
“I feel so light,” she said.
In the coming days, Lafferty said she plans on contacting all her family members to tell them the news.
Following the decision, Crown prosecutor Blair MacPherson told reporters the legal process has been a long one for everyone involved.
“For the family, the community of Fort Good Hope and also the (RCMP) who did an exceptional job investigating,” said MacPherson.
Before the decision was handed down, MacPherson argued in court McNeely’s adult sentence should stand. He said Justice Charbonneau had made the right decision after weighing the offender’s background, along with impact the killing had on both Lafferty’s family and the community as a whole.
“This has been an extremely difficult case for the people of Fort Good Hope and everybody associated (with the murder),” MacPherson told the court, including the community at large, the friends of both McNeely and Charlotte, but most importantly, he said, “for the family of Charlotte Lafferty.”
MacPherson told the court McNeely has to now accept what’s he done – something he appeared to do when he apologized to Lafferty’s family for the first time – while accessing the programming he needs, so that when he’s likely released in his late 20s, he can go back to the community and “continue the healing process.”
“Finally after many years, this case is over,” MacPherson told reporters following the decision.
As for Louisa Lafferty, she told reporters outside the Yellowknife courthouse she’s going to go on a “long walk.”
“Now we have to start thinking of our future,” she said, telling reporters her life had been “on pause,” after her daughter’s murder and McNeely’s appeal.