Colten McNeely was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison after stabbing his friend Lloyd Edgi to death in Fort Good Hope three years ago.
McNeely was originally charged with second-degree murder. Justice Andrew Mahar found him guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter as McNeely’s judgement was “severely” impaired from alcohol and he appeared to be acting in self-defence.
“The situation arose as a result of jealousy and intoxication,” Mahar said in delivering his sentence.
On the night Edgi died, the two men were arguing over an affair between McNeely and Edgi’s partner. Edgi first assaulted McNeely on his house porch leaving McNeely with a bloody nose before leaving the scene.
During the two-week trial, McNeely told the court he later sought out Edgi to sort things out with his friend but armed himself with a hunting knife for fear Edgi might still be angry to the point of violence. When McNeely found Edgi, Edgi begun pushing and hitting him. McNeely used the knife to stop the assault.
McNeely stabbed Edgi nine times – all in the area of his upper left chest. The fatal wound was a 10-centimetre blow to Edgi’s heart.
Regardless of McNeely’s “reckless” actions, Mahar said, his “wanting to make amends is not entirely without merit.”
“This was a gross overreaction of the situation he found himself in,” the judge said, however “(McNeely) did not specifically intend to cause (Edgi) harm.”
Mahar told the court that manslaughter is a particularly difficult crime to sentence because of its broad spectrum of culpability ranging from near accident to near murder. This offence is at the upper end of that scale, he said.
“Were it not for the level of intoxication, this would have been second-degree murder. The risk of death was clearly present.”
Mahar told the court he would also recommend McNeely serve his sentence in the Northwest Territories “if at all possible,” as he considers McNeely to be “a vulnerable inmate.”
He said that McNeely appears before the court as a young man, and no evidence that the events of Edgi’s death were within character for McNeely. Mahar also acknowledged the present Gladue factors.
“I believe every effort should be made through corrections Canada to keep (McNeely) safe and allow him to make progress,” said the judge.
A number of Edgi’s family members and friends were present in the public gallery to hear McNeely’s sentence. The NWT Supreme Court heard Monday about how Edgi’s death impacted so many of their lives.
Mahar called the Nov. 2 hearing “heartbreaking,” acknowledging the hardships losing Edgi has caused for much of the community of 500 people. Mahar expressed particular sympathy for Edgi’s two young children, who will grow up without their father.
The judge also acknowledged McNeely’s apology and the remorse he showed for his actions.
The offender told the court that he wishes he “could take (Edgi)’s family’s pain away,” and that, “if time in jail could bring him back, I’d be happy to serve all the time I’ve got.”
McNeely also said he anticipates never being welcome back into Fort Good Hope.
Mahar said he hopes that changes. He told the gallery he hopes the community can “move to a place where some limited amount of forgiveness is possible.”
“Mr. McNeely,” Mahar said, “I hope you can forgive yourself, too.”