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Still in jail-for now

Still in jail-for now

Webster killer seeks early release
As Xtra West goes to press, a youth court judge is deciding whether or not to let one of Aaron Webster's killers out of jail early.

Webster was brutally beaten and left to die near the gay cruising trails of Stanley Park in November 2001. One youth pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to two years in closed custody and a year's house arrest in December 2003. A second youth pleaded guilty a few months after the first, and received the same sentence-the maximum a youth can get-last April. (Neither youth can be named since they were minors at the time of the offence.)

Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the first youth's incarceration.

According to section 94 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, all young people committed to custody for more than a year must have their sentence reviewed at the end of their first year in detention.

The Crown is opposing the youth's early release.

Prosecutor Sandra Dworkin called it "premature" at the mandatory sentence review, Jan 12.

"It was a savage, unprovoked attack on an innocent stranger, a planned attack, in essence for sport," she told Judge Valmond Romilly, the same judge who sentenced the youth back in December 2003.

When he initially sentenced the youth, Romilly called the killing a hate crime and compared the youth and his accomplices to Nazi thugs.

Last week, Romilly heard submissions that the youth had expressed remorse and guilt for his actions while incarcerated.

But, Romilly pointed out, there were contradictions between those expressions of remorse and the fact that the judge in the recent manslaughter trial of Ryan Cran and Danny Rao "didn't seem particularly impressed by [the youth's] testimony."

Cran, 22, and Rao, 23, were also charged with manslaughter in Webster's killing. Rao was acquitted while Cran was convicted on Dec 10. That case was heard by BC Supreme Court Justice Mary Humphries.

As part of a plea deal, the two youths agreed to testify against Rao and Cran in exchange for shorter sentences for themselves.

Both youths told Justice Humphries that Cran drove them and Rao to Stanley Park on Nov 17, 2001, that Cran had weapons in his car, and that the group armed itself then walked to Second Beach to beat up "peeping toms." The youths also testified that the group then chased the naked Webster across a parking lot, and that Webster was struck repeatedly after the group surrounded him at his car.

But Humphries said the youths' testimony was "fraught with inconsistencies and self-serving untruths." And, she said, they admittedly lied under oath.

It would have been "dangerous" to base a conviction on their evidence alone, she ruled.

Still, the first youth's lawyer countered last week, as a result of his client's revelations to police at the time of his arrest, "three people stand convicted of the most heinous crime."

If the mandatory review goes in the youth's favour, he could serve the rest of his sentence in the community, living at home and attending the BC Institute of Technology (BCIT).

Judge Romilly could also opt to give the youth "open custody," allowing him to leave the Willington Youth Detention Centre during the day to attend BCIT, provided he returns to the centre each night. Or he could confirm the youth's original sentence and keep him in full detention for another year.

During submissions, the youth, now sporting a goatee, sat quietly clad in green prison clothes.

Dworkin argued that he should spend more time in jail.

But, she added, the youth has been a model prisoner.

"They say he has derived maximum benefit from the facility," she told the court. "He's done everything that has been asked of him."

Still, she said, his release should be gradual.

"He'll be able to rebuild his life... Something the victim of this offense will never be able to do," she noted.

Romilly reserved his decision until Jan 18.

Justice Mary Humphries will hear sentencing submissions for Cran on Jan 27 in BC Supreme Court.
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