The lawyer for a young man who shot and killed four people in northern Saskatchewan says his client was an isolated teenager crying out for help that never came.
Aaron Fox is arguing before the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal that the shooter, now 21, should serve a youth sentence instead of the adult punishment he has received.
The shooter was weeks shy of turning 18 when he killed two brothers at their home and then a teacher and a teacher’s aide at the La Loche high school in 2016.
He was sentenced as an adult last year to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years after pleading guilty to first-degree murder, second-degree murder and attempted murder.
Fox cited statements from the young man’s teachers who noted he was often alone, constantly withdrawn and someone who should have received academic and psychological help.
Fox referred to the shooter’s school journal where he listed his dislikes as school, students and teachers and, in another section, wrote of a school assignment in which he brought up a murder plan.
“I read all of these words and they cry out for somebody to sit down and try and figure out what’s going on in this kid’s world,” Fox told the Appeal Court on Thursday.
“But it didn’t happen.”
The shooter, mostly looking straight ahead and sitting with his hands folded, appeared in court via video.
A publication ban ordered because of the appeal prevents identifying him.
Fox said his client is serving his sentence at a maximum-security facility and not receiving the psychological help he needs.
Documents filed with the court in February said he is a “lost soul who slipped through the cracks” as he suffers from different mental disorders and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
Fox said in the documents that the sentencing judge focused on the gravity of the crime while failing to consider evidence that spoke to cognitive problems affecting the offender’s maturity, empathy, ability to understand consequences and, above all, his level of blame.
“All of which were aggravated by a multitude of surrounding circumstances, not the least of which was the failure of the education system in La Loche, to supply him with the help that he needed,” said the documents.
They added that the shooter had an IQ of 68 and, at the time of the shooting, was repeating Grade 10 for a third time.
The Crown previously argued in court that the shooter should be sentenced as an adult given the seriousness of the crime and the offender’s circumstances.
In her sentencing decision, a judge found the shooting involved sophisticated planning. The shooter researched different kinds of guns and the damage they could do to people. The night before the shootings he did an online search asking, “What does it feel like to kill someone?”
Fox said the shooting was a result of his client’s depression, anxiety and hopelessness.
“His ‘sophisticated plan’ was to shoot people at the school and then die,” said the documents
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press