Two people each received 10 months in jail and two years’ probation as accessories after the fact to murder in the death of 22-year-old Breanna Menacho.
Northwest Territories Supreme Court Justice Karan Shaner sentenced Jordan Nande, 24, and Lisa Brule, 21, in a Yellowknife courtroom on Wednesday afternoon.
On Monday, Nande and Brule had pleaded guilty to the charge, admitting to assisting Devon Larabie, 27 – who is accused of murdering Menacho – in evading authorities.
Under the criminal code, a person is an accessory to a crime when they are aware that another person has committed a crime and they helped that person to escape the legal consequences.
Larabie has not entered a plea in his case and the charges against him have not been yet been heard in court.
RCMP discovered Menacho’s body in a Yellowknife apartment on the evening of May 6, one day after the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, also known as Red Dress Day.
Two days later, police charged Larabie with murder. Nande and Brule were charged as accessories on May 13.
On Monday, both Crown prosecutor Blair MacPherson and defence lawyers Peter Harte and Jay Bran agreed that Nande and Brule should be sentenced to between nine and 12 months in jail.
Shaner said she felt that was a “reasonable position given the facts of the case.”
How the sentences were reached
Being an accessory to murder, the judge said, “is among the most serious offences found in the criminal code.” It carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Shaner noted, however, that sentences for the charge have in the past ranged from a conditional sentence, or house arrest, to three years’ imprisonment and beyond.
She said Nande and Brule’s moral culpability is diminished as they are both Indigenous, have “significant, systemic Gladue factors,” and possess limited criminal records. They also pleaded guilty and expressed remorse for their actions. (The Gladue principle, named for Cree woman Jamie Tanis Gladue, orders judges to consider unique systemic or background factors that may bring an Indigenous offender before the courts and select sentences accordingly.)
According to Harte, his client – Brule – was apprehended by child protection services when she was eight years old. She moved between various foster homes and Hope’s Haven, the youth transitional housing program, at a young age.
When she was 10 years old, Brule was diagnosed with mild to moderate symptoms of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Brule said she started drinking when she was 13 years old to cope with anxiety and depression, and she struggled with an eating disorder.
Bran said Nande was taken into foster care when he was aged six or seven and moved from placement to placement until he was 16.
Nande has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to childhood trauma, which included both being the victim of and witnessing violence. At the time of Menacho’s killing, Nande said he had been experimenting with crack cocaine for a few months and was using it almost daily.
Bran said Nande intends to return to Fort Liard once he is released from jail and hopes to pursue a career in carpentry.
Shaner said one of the most “thoughtful and important” pieces of evidence she heard during the sentencing hearing was a victim impact statement from Menacho’s mother, Lisa Zoe. Shaner said this left her with an “indelible impression” of the “irreparable hurt and loss” that Menacho’s family has suffered.
“She was clearly a bright light with hopes and dreams for her future,” she said of Menacho.
Menacho had ‘the kindest soul’
In the statement, which prosecutor MacPherson read to the court on Monday, Zoe said this will be her family’s first Christmas without Menacho, who loved this time of year.
“My heart aches and my mind tends to focus on how unfair everything seems to be,” she wrote, noting that Nande and Brule will likely be released from jail in time for the holidays.
“I feel so empty, so numb, and so sad,” Zoe continued.
“Each day is a constant struggle.”
Zoe described her daughter as the “most loving and forgiving human being,” saying she was a hugger and wanted to study to become a personal support worker. Zoe said she will spend the rest of her life trying to understand how anyone could hurt her daughter.
“Brea was so loveable, a friend to so many, and she had the kindest soul,” she wrote, highlighting Menacho’s sense of humour and how much she loved her family.
As the statement was read, Brule sobbed while repeating, “I’m so sorry.”
When later given the opportunity to address the court, Brule apologized to Menacho’s family.
“I don’t deserve forgiveness from you but I just want to say I’m sorry, I’m truly sorry about your daughter,” she said.
“I just wish things went differently that day.”
Nande also apologized.
“I just want to say sorry for everything that happened,” he said.
“I wish nothing happened that day and sorry about everything.”
With time served in pre-sentencing custody, Brule has already completed her custodial sentence. Nande still has some time remaining in his sentence as he used three months of remand credit to cover part of an unrelated five-month sentence for assault causing bodily harm.
Under the terms of their probation, both Brule and Nande will have to report to a probation officer and attend counselling.
Concluding her sentencing decision, Shaner wished the pair “good luck.” The judge told Menacho’s friends and family she was “very sorry” for their loss.
Publication ban up in the air
Both the Crown prosecutor and defence lawyers have agreed on the facts of Nande and Brule’s case. Cabin Radio cannot yet legally publish details about what happened, however, as they are protected under a temporary publication ban.
The Crown has applied for the agreed statement of facts to be sealed until a jury is selected for Larabie’s trial.
MacPherson acknowledged that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are important charter rights.
The prosecutor said, however, that the details of the case are “striking” and people could remember them, which could make it difficult to find an impartial jury. If the facts are published, he argued, it would infringe on Larabie’s right to a fair trial and could delay court proceedings.
MacPherson noted that the Crown is only asking for a publication ban on the statement of facts, and for the ban to only be temporary.
“We’re not asking for the press to be muzzled here,” he said.
“The media provide a great service to people in Yellowknife and also our outlying communities.”
Larabie’s lawyer supported MacPherson’s argument.
Tess Layton, the lawyer representing the CBC – which is opposing the publication ban – argued a ban is “clearly unjustified” and would prevent “any meaningful reporting” on Nande and Brule’s case.
Layton said there’s a need for immediacy when it comes to reporting on criminal proceedings, otherwise the newsworthiness could fade. She noted Larabie likely won’t have a trial for at least one year.
“We can’t simply say to the media they can just wait,” she said.
Layton called MacPherson’s argument “purely speculative,” saying it lacked evidence. She said if there are concerns about trial fairness in Larabie’s case, there are alternatives to a publication ban like adjourning trial, changing venues, and sequestering jurors. She added the facts of Nande and Brule’s case are also likely to be brought up in Larabie’s case.
MacPherson said while Layton’s argument was “powerful” and “persuasive,” it was better suited to a southern jurisdiction than the Northwest Territories, which has a small population. For people in Yellowknife, he noted, the name Denecho King is synonymous with swords and escaping from jail.
“Context means a lot here,” he said.
Layton, however, referenced the case of Norman Larue in Whitehorse, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2013. In 2012, a judge rejected a request for a publication ban in the trial of co-accused Christine Asp until Larue’s trial had taken place.
Justice Shaner said she will make her decision on whether to extend the publication ban by December 18.