THUNDER BAY - A jury of 12 will decide if Courtney LaBelle is guilty of second-degree murder or manslaughter for the 2020 stabbing death of her 11-year-old son.
The jury began deliberations late Thursday afternoon, following closing submissions by Crown and defense counsel earlier in the day, as well as instructions from presiding judge Justice John Fregeau.
LaBelle, 37, has pleaded not guilty to the charge of second-degree murder for her role in the death of her 11-year-old son in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 2020. An order by the court prohibits the publication of the victim’s name.
LaBelle was also facing a charge of aggravated assault, but Crown attorney Andrew Sadler requested Thursday that the charge be stayed, in order to allow the jury to focus on the more serious charge of murder during its deliberations.
It was conceded by both Crown and defense counsel that LaBelle was responsible for the victim’s death, which was the result of 31 stab wounds to various parts of his body, including more than 10 wounds to the chest and two fatal wounds that penetrated his heart.
Defense counsel Gil Labine began his closing submission by acknowledging that the death of a child is not an easy case to hear, saying the jury has a lot of information and evidence to consider.
And while he conceded that LaBelle did stab her 11-year-old son and her actions were unlawful, Labine told the jury they must decide if she had the required state of mind to be found guilty of the charge of second-degree murder.
“Our position is, the resounding answer is, no, she did not,” Labine said.
During the trial, Labine called two witnesses, including LaBelle, who said she had no memory of the stabbing, and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Maryana Kravtsenyuk, who testified LaBelle was experiencing drug-induced psychosis.
In his closing, Labine said the Crown was asking the jury to draw inferences that amounted to "grasping at straws" and not indicative of LaBelle’s mental state at the time of the offence.
“The theory of the defense is the Crown has not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Courtney LaBelle had the required statement of mind for the achievement of murder, that she meant to kill her son,” Labine said.
Labine showed the jury a picture of LaBelle taken at the Thunder Bay Police Service headquarters shortly after her arrest that shows her covered in blood and being held up by two police officers.
“You can draw inferences of her state of mind by looking at this picture,” he said. “You will see that the person in this picture is not even close to the person who is sitting in the prisoner’s box. This person was suffering from a drug-induced psychotic episode. If you were to see this image on a TV screen or in a movie, you would have said: this person is crazy.”
Earlier in the trial, the jury was shown video surveillance footage from the booking room inside the police headquarters showing LaBelle acting erratically, flailing her arms and legs, refusing to stand, and screaming and moaning for several minutes straight.
According to Labine, the surveillance video "speaks volumes" as to LaBelle’s condition within a close proximity of the offence.
“The booking room tape is real-time evidence within 45 minutes to an hour of when the offence was apparently committed,” Labine said. “You have real-time evidence to look at and you can draw your own conclusions from that.”
Labine also reiterated a statement he made at the opening of the trial, expressing the strong bond that exists between a mother and her child, saying there needs to be some kind of intervention to cause that bond to be broken and a mother to hurt her child.
“That intervention is the use of drugs,” Labine said, urging the jury to not to draw any inferences that LaBelle knew what she was doing or had the stability of mind to have the requisite intent to hurt her child.
“If she was in a state of drug-induced psychosis at the time she was stabbing her child, she would not have had the requisite mental element for the offence of second-degree murder,” he said. “The only verdict you can come back with is manslaughter, which does not require that mental element.”
Sadler began his closing submission by reminding the jury that LaBelle was indicted on the charge of second-degree murder because the Crown believes she knew the injuries she inflicted upon her son would result in his death.
“I ask you to pay particular attention to those aspects of the evidence that tell you that Courtney LaBelle was aware of what she was doing and what was happening,” he said. “The Crown does not have to prove that Courtney LaBelle knew it was [the victim] she was stabbing. The Crown has to prove that she knew the injuries were likely to result in death.”
Throughout the trial, the Crown called 15 witnesses to testify, including Courtney LaBelle’s father, Eugene LaBelle, and his partner, Suzanne Hackworth, who were present in the Victoria Avenue home the morning of Jan. 1, 2020.
Several first responders and officers with the Thunder Bay Police Service were called to testify, along with the forensic pathologist who performed the post-mortem examination on the victim.
During his closing submission, Sadler focused on the evidence given by LaBelle herself and Kravtsenyuk.
According to Sadler, LaBelle’s evidence was contradicted by other witnesses, including her brother Arnold LaBelle, who testified that she did not consume drugs in front of him the night of Dec. 31, 2019, though she testified she had.
Sadler said there were also contradictions between what LaBelle told Kravtsenyuk during interviews she conducted with her throughout 2020 and what she testified to during the trial.
LaBelle told Kravtsenyuk that she did not remember anything from what happened inside the Victoria Avenue residence on Jan. 1, 2020 but testified she remembered her dad "beating her up" and that she had a knife in her hand.
“Where Courtney LaBelle’s evidence differs from what she told Kravtsenyuk undermines the credibility and reliability of her evidence,” Sadler said. “The Crown’s position is even if you accept all of Courtney LaBelle’s evidence, she is still guilty of murder.”
Sadler added that Kravtsenyuk’s evidence also aids in the Crown’s argument that LaBelle was aware of her actions when stabbing her son. He referred to Kravtsenyuk's statements during cross-examination that it was her opinion that LaBelle would have more likely than not have understood her actions would cause death or serious bodily harm.
LaBelle’s behaviour following the incident and seen in the booking room surveillance video, Sadler suggests, could have been the result of shock from her actions, and not drug-induced psychosis.
“There is no evidence suggesting any psychotic behaviour on the part of Ms. LaBelle before she stabbed the victim,” Sadler said. “I ask you to consider whether she would have been in shock after that incident, knowing that she stabbed her child, knowing that her child was likely to die as a result and would have put her in a state of shock and would have contributed to the symptoms that were observed.”
Sadler also pointed out how much force was needed during the stabbing for the wounds to penetrate into the victim’s chest and abdominal cavity and the tight cluster of wounds to the chest, which he argued was not a random displacement of injuries.
“The location of these injuries, the amount of force, the weapon used to inflict them, should all assist you that Courtney knew that her actions would likely result in the victim’s death,” he said, adding she would also have been aware of the victim attempting to defend himself, as evidenced by numerous defensive wounds to his arms and hands.
With respect to LaBelle’s drug use that night, Sadler told the jury that impairment by drugs or alcohol is not enough to raise a reasonable doubt as to her guilt.
“For you to have a reasonable doubt, that doubt must be with respect to whether Courtney LaBelle knew the injuries she was causing would likely result in [the victim’s] death,” he said. “The fact that she doesn’t remember doesn’t mean she didn’t know what she was doing.”
The jury will remain sequestered until a unanimous verdict is reached. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, a jury must reach a unanimous decision in a finding of guilt or an acquittal. If the jury is unable to reach a unanimous decision, it will be considered deadlocked.