A Northwest Territories Supreme Court judge sentenced Colten McNeely, 27, to seven years in prison on Wednesday morning for what he called an “extremely reckless and dangerous act.”
On September 3, 2017, following a night of drinking in Fort Good Hope, McNeely stabbed his then 28-year-old friend Lloyd Edgi nine times, including a fatal stab to his heart.
McNeely was charged with second-degree murder in Edgi’s death. In January, however, Justice Andrew Mahar convicted him of manslaughter, finding the evidence did not support the more serious charge.
“I don’t believe that Colten McNeely was particularly malicious that night,” Mahar said on Wednesday, adding McNeely had not specifically aimed to hurt Edgi.
During trial, McNeely said Edgi had assaulted him earlier that night in 2017 – leaving him with a bloody nose – over a previous affair McNeely had with Edgi’s wife.
McNeely said he wanted to “sort things out” with his friend but armed himself with a hunting knife. When the pair met again, McNeely claimed Edgi grabbed him and he responded by stabbing Edgi in self-defence.
Mahar said this was a “gross overreaction” and, had it not been for McNeely’s level of intoxication and “poor judgement,” he would have convicted McNeely of second-degree murder.
“This was an extremely sad and unnecessary event,” the judge said, adding it was “heartbreaking” to hear how Edgi’s two children will have to grow up without him.
On Wednesday, Mahar noted sentences for manslaughter are “particularly difficult.” That’s because there is no mandatory minimum sentence for the crime, unlike murder, and sentences for manslaughter can range from no jail time to life in prison.
During an earlier sentencing hearing, Crown prosecutor Blair McPherson argued McNeely should receive seven to eight years in prison for the crime. Defence lawyer Peter Harte, meanwhile, argued a sentence of four to five years would allow McNeely to serve his sentence in the Northwest Territories, rather than in federal prison.
“When somebody dies, the level of guilt of someone who causes that death falls on a very wide spectrum,” Mahar said.
Mahar ultimately found that McNeely’s actions fell on the most culpable end of that spectrum, adding the stabbing was “not simple, quick, and spontaneous” but involved a number of steps over time.
The judge also considered that McNeely is a young man with no prior criminal record, saying there’s no indication the stabbing was in character or that he poses a continued risk to the community. He also noted McNeely has made progress in counselling and has expressed remorse for his actions.
Mahar said he believes McNeely has a good chance of rehabilitation and is a “vulnerable inmate.” Mahar recommended McNeely be allowed to serve as much of his sentence as possible in the Northwest Territories, so his family can visit him, and that he be considered for early release.
Finally, Mahar said, while McNeely feels he can never return to Fort Good Hope, he hopes that changes.
“I hope you can forgive yourself at some point too,” he told McNeely.