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Crown seeking 10-year sentence for man convicted in death of Braiden Jacob

Defense counsel is calling for a sentence of three to five years for Jonathan Yellowhead, who was found guilty of manslaughter for his role in the 2018 death of 17-year-old Braiden Jacob

THUNDER BAY — Exactly four years later from when the body of 17-year-old Braiden Jacob was found in Chapples Park, members of his family expressed the pain his loss has had and the ongoing tragedy that has resulted from it.

“Today marks the fourth year since we lost our little brother,” Braiden’s older sister, Meredith Jacob, told the court. “I have sat down many times and I’ve tried to put to words how this has affected my life. My life will never be the same.”

Jacob’s family were given the opportunity to speak during a sentencing submission hearing for 26-year-old Jonathan Yellowhead before Justice Bonnie Warkentin in a Thunder Bay Courtroom on Friday.

Yellowhead was found guilty of manslaughter for his role in the death of Jacob, whose body was found in Chapples Park on Dec. 9, 2018.

The verdict was handed down by Warkentin on Aug. 22, following a seven-day trial that opened on April 4.

Warkentin ruled the evidence presented at trial proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Yellowhead caused the blunt force trauma injuries to Jacob, which was a significant contributing factor in his death.

A forensic pathologist determined Jacob died as a result of hypothermia, blunt force trauma to the face and head, and alcohol intoxication.

Jacob, of Webequie First Nation, was in the city of Thunder Bay for counselling services and he was first reported missing on Dec. 6, 2018. During the trial, several witnesses testified to seeing Yellowhead and Jacob walking toward Limbrick Street area the evening of Dec. 6 after they were both drinking with others in an Arthur Street hotel room.

Video surveillance footage from the Limbrick area shows them together at approximately 1:40 a.m. before they were seen leaving together. Several hours later, Yellowhead was recorded returning to a residence in the area alone.

Forensic evidence collected by investigators included blood like staining with a DNA profile matching Jacob found on a backpack Yellowhead was carrying and on the doorframe of the residence where he stayed that night.

Yellowhead, of Eabametoong First Nation, returned to his home community on Dec. 7, 2018 and was arrested and initially charged with second-degree murder on Dec. 14.

Defense counsel Neil McCartney is seeking a sentence of three to five years, to be followed by two to three years probation. Yellowhead has been in custody for approximately 35 months. If sentenced on the low end of three years, with pre-sentence custody enhanced to three years, Yellowhead could be released with probation to follow.  

McCartney shared with the court details of Yellowhead’s background, which included family trauma and loss as well as substance abuse.

He also referenced the fact that Jacob died as a result of hypothermia, which McCartney said separates this case from other manslaughter cases where blunt force trauma was the direct cause of death.

Pleas of guilt are also often cited as mitigating factors during sentencing, but McCartney said the matter going to trial should not be considered an aggravating factor because there were triable issues in this case.

McCartney recognized the tragic nature of Jacob’s death, but he reminded the court that the lives of two young Indigenous men were impacted by the events of the night of Dec. 6, 2018.

“We cannot let this cost us two lives of Indigenous people by having Mr. Yellowhead go down a dark path that would start with a long sentence,” he said. “No sentence is going to bring Braiden Jacob back. But the right sentence will ameliorate a second Indigenous person’s life being ruined.”

Crown attorney Thomas Bud is asking the court to impose a custodial sentence of eight to 12 years, with a recommendation of a 10-year sentence.

Bud referred to Yellowhead’s past criminal record, which includes two convictions involving violence and several other non-violent offences.

“Treatment and probation have not been successful in the past for Mr. Yellowhead, despite a willingness to attend treatment,” Bud said.

He added that Jacob’s death had a tremendous impact on his family and while formal victim impact statements were not provided, two members of Jacob’s family were permitted to speak before the court.

Emily Jacob, Braiden Jacob’s grandmother, said members of the family who have been unable to cope with Braiden’s death have been lost and others continue to struggle.

“Today is the fourth memorial day for us. It is very hard on us, especially the immediate family,” she said. “Today is one of the hard days that we face every year.”

Meredith Jacob said Braiden was the baby of the family and she and other family members continue to struggle following his death.

“When I think of him, the pain never gets easier,” she said. “At night I can’t sleep. When I do a lot of times I have nightmares. Even when I wake up I still feel trapped in my nightmare. But I try to find it my heart, and in my mind, and in my body to find peace.”

Bud argued the trial was a difficult process for both the family and witnesses who testified. While he recognized the difficulties of Yellowhead’s past, Bud said the seriousness of the offence requires a lengthy sentence.

“A significant period of custody is required to denounce the severity and gravity of Mr. Yellowhead’s conduct in this particular case,” he said.  

When given the opportunity to speak, Yellowhead read from a letter he prepared earlier, detailing his time in custody and the completion of his high school credits.

Yellowhead said he wants to attend college and work with heavy equipment or be a social worker to help others.

“All I want to do now is go home, home to my children and be a father,” Yellowhead said.

Yellowhead then addressed the Jacob family in the body of the courtroom.

“I also want the court to know that I feel heartbroken for the Jacob family. I think about the whole situation all the time,” he said.

“I want the Jacob family to know that I had no intentions to hurt Braiden. It was the first time I met him. It is a situation that caused a lot of grief and pain. I want to say that I am sorry for all the pain I caused you.”

Family members cried as Yellowhead spoke and some had to leave the courtroom.  

Warkentin said she will need time to consider the submissions for sentencing. The matter has been adjourned to Jan. 30, 2023 to set a date for her ruling on sentence.


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