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Family of teenager who was beaten and tortured feels let down by justice system

The Yarmouth Justice Centre. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
The Yarmouth Justice Centre. TINA COMEAU PHOTO - Tina Comeau

The family of a Yarmouth teenager who was brutally assaulted nearly 10 months ago feel let down by the justice system.

Even from the get-go the girl’s aunt and grandmother feel the charges laid weren’t strong enough. There were charges of unlawful confinement, assault causing bodily harm, conspiracy, etc. The family thinks a charge of attempted murder should have also been laid against some of the accused. Had the girl not escaped from her captors, the aunt says, “Who even knows what would have happened to her? I don’t even want to think what would have happened to her.”

The teenager, whose identity is protected by the court – and therefore her family members also cannot be identified – was assaulted, confined, threatened and tortured for hours on Jan. 4, after being picked up by a friend. The girl, 17 at the time of the incident, didn’t know when she got into the vehicle that three others were inside. 

Over the course of several hours she was taken to multiple locations in the Town of Yarmouth and in the county, where she was beaten and feared for her life. She finally was able to escape after the car came to a stop at a stop sign. She jumped out, even while those in the car tried to pull her back in. She sought refuge at a nearby business where staff called 911.

At the hospital her family says the swelling and injuries to her face left her unrecognizable.

THREE SENTENCINGS

So far three people charged in connection with this incident have been sentenced.

Jacqueline Elizabeth Angell, 65 at the time of her June sentencing, received a 12-month conditional sentence after pleading guilty to assault with a weapon. The first six months of the sentence were to be served under house arrest. A 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was included in the second half of the sentence. Court-imposed conditions were put in place for the duration of the 12-month sentence.

The court was told when the teenager was brought to Angell’s residence, the woman began yelling commands at the teenager and hit her with a wooded stick. She also grabbed her by the throat. “At one point the offender took the collar off of her dog and tried to get the dog to go after the victim. This was unsuccessful,” the court was told.

The girl’s family saw the 12-month conditional sentence as a slap on the wrist.

Ashley Comeau, 20, was sentenced in September, after pleading guilty to conspiracy and unlawful confinement. She did not participate in the beatings on the victim, the court was told. But she was the driver of the vehicle, which, the judge said, enabled the assaults to continued. She received an 18-month conditional sentence to be served at home, followed by a 12 months of probation.

The girl’s family felt, again, the sentence was not harsh enough.

Trey Rhyno, 20, received a sentence of time served and probation in September after pleading guilty to assault causing bodily harm and unlawful confinement. The court gave Rhyno time-and-a-half credit for being in custody on remand prior to sentencing. The remand he served was on charges in connection with the Jan. 4 incident, but also included other breach charges by the time his sentencing occurred. The Crown had asked for an 18-month jail sentence. The defence sought time served. A conditional sentence was not an option for the judge to consider because the Crown had proceeded by indictment.

In passing a sentence of time served, Judge Claudine MacDonald – who handed down all three of these sentences – said she had to consider the need for accused people to receive similar sentences for similar crimes. 

And at that time, no one had been sentenced to jail for the attack on the teen.

“If we don’t have similar sentences for similar offences in similar circumstances, where is the fairness in the process?” the judge said.

The girl’s family was devastated and outraged.

Where is the fairness for their loved one, they questioned? 

NO JUSTICE, FAMILY SAYS

In an interview the family requested with the Tri-County Vanguard, the girl’s aunt and grandmother said they’ve been dissatisfied and disillusioned by the entire process.

“There was absolutely no justice, whether it came from the prosecutor or it came from the judge,” the grandmother says.

There are still two people before the court in connection with this case. One of the accused, Danesha Russell, is slated to stand trial in January. A youth offender has yet to enter a plea. 

“It’s been almost 10 months and there is still no plea,” the grandmother says. 

Although in saying this, the family members say given the sentencings that have taken place they don’t hold out much hope for the rest of this case if the remaining accused are convicted or plead guilty.

“(My niece) was tortured, but all of these people are walking away with absolutely nothing,” the aunt says. “None of it whatsoever makes sense to me.”

“It’s not even like we’ve hit a brick wall. It’s like we’ve had to run through 10 of them and it just keeps coming and coming,” she says, noting people go to jail for lesser offences.

The family says they feel as if no one in the justice system has been fighting for the teenager. 

“I feel that maybe if she was a pastor’s daughter, if she was a judge’s daughter, a judge’s granddaughter, a lawyer’s daughter, it would have mattered more,” the aunt says. “I don’t think that it would be handled the same way.”

“(She) gets the rest of her life to be traumatized and that is it, that is absolutely it,” says her aunt. “She never came out on top of this whatsoever, not at all.”

The family also doesn’t feel the sentencings have sent a strong enough message to deter others from doing the same thing to someone else.

“It’s just been 10 months now of a nightmare that is not going to go away,” the grandmother says. “It’s an emotional rollercoaster.”

After the first of the three sentences had taken place, the teenage victim told the Tri-County Vanguard that the sentencing made her feel as if she didn’t matter. And that feeling hasn’t changed, her family says.

Says the aunt, “How is that okay? To make the victim feel like she’s less important than the people that did this to her?” 

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