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2013-12-30 at 13:02

Eight years

By Jamie Smith,
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Joseph Wesley will spend eight years in prison for his role in the killing of Adam Yellowhead.

Originally facing a charge of second-degree murder, 34-year-old Wesley pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the June of this year for the 2012 death of 65-year-old Yellowhead. Wesley was first charged after Yellowhead's body was found on Aug. 29, 2012 in a wooded area off of Field Street.

Wesley stared at the ground in Superior Court in Thunder Bay Monday morning as Justice Bruce Fitzpatrick, through an Ojibwa interpreter, explained the sentence, based on a Gladue and pre-sentencing report.

The court heard that Welsey's family was the of the lowest social class in Cat Lake, a community rocked by extreme poverty along with substance, physical and sexual abuse. After his mother died when he was seven, Wesley spent the next four years being beaten and starved in foster care. The court also heard how he was forced to have sex with other children in care.

"He had what can best be described as an horrific childhood," Fitzpatrick said.

Illiterate and facing several cognitive impairments, Wesley spent his transient life abusing substances and racking up a criminal record for everything from uttering threats to aggravated assault.

The court heard that Yellowhead was a frail man, having lost up to 80 pounds in the past five months before the night he died, due to colon cancer.

He had also just lost his wife. Family members wept as the court heard how the loss of their mother and father so quickly left them grief stricken. 

The Crown has asked for 10 to 12 years while defence called for three to six. Fitzpatrick said an 8 year sentence, including time served, struck a balance between Wesley's problems and the public's confidence in the justice system. Yellowhead's family wept and hugged outside of the courtroom after the sentence.

Defence attorney Chris Watkins said the decision was firm but fair.

"I think it's a sentence that struck a balance," he said. 

In the agreed statement of facts, 45 minutes after first responders arrived on scene where Yellowhead's body was found, Wesley was being released from the Thunder Bay Police Services station where he had spent the night after a public intoxication charge.

In an interview with the police, Wesley said he was drinking Listerine with Yellowhead somewhere between 10 and 11 p.m. the night of the incident; the two started arguing.

Wesley said he had Yellowhead in a headlock from behind and then the victim fell back on top of Wesley. The then murder suspect told police he heard Yellowhead’s neck break.

Saying he was scared, Wesley fled the area.

Shortly after 1 a.m. Aug. 29, police responded to a call about a man sleeping on a bench in front of the SilverCity movie theatre on May Street.

The man was identified as Wesley and police detected a strong odour of Listerine. Wesley was also slurring his speech and was unsteady on his feet.

There was no room in the detox centre that night and he was too intoxicated to take to Shelter House. That led police to arrest him for public intoxication.

Yellowhead's body was discovered around 8:45 a.m. by four individuals; one of those individuals checked for a pulse but did not find one.

Wesley was at the police station in a cell until he was released at 9:30 a.m.

Around 4:20 p.m. city police received a call from a Nishnawbe-Aski Nation police officer in Cat Lake, who stated they had received calls from two of Wesley's aunts, who said their nephew had called and said he had killed someone and thought he had broken the man's neck.

Police also learned from one of the victim's relatives that Yellowhead had been diagnosed with colon cancer, refused treatment and had lost about 60 to 80 pounds in the five months prior to his death.

The post-mortem examination revealed the cause of death to be asphyxiation due to a crush injury to the larynx caused by strangulation.

The exam also indicated Yellowhead received several other blows to the face and head and small cuts on his right hand.

Yellowhead also had a blood alcohol level four times the legal driving limit of 310 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

Wesley had also told a cousin about what had happened and that cousin was interviewed by the Thunder Bay police on Aug. 31 around 6 p.m.

An arrest warrant was issued for Wesley around 7:15 p.m. and local police had received a call from the Kenora OPP detachment around 10:25 p.m. that evening that they had located Wesley and placed him under arrest.

City police arrived in Kenora the next morning and drove Wesley back to Thunder Bay.

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