Two years after the death of South Surrey’s Corey Bennett, the man responsible described the act as something he still can’t make sense of, and can never fix.
“I fully am disgusted in myself,” Donald James Chad Jr. told Judge James Jardine during his sentencing hearing Tuesday in Surrey Provincial Court. “I took someone’s dad, someone’s brother. Parents had to bury their son because of me. There is no fixing what I did.”
Chad, 32, was one of two men arrested in connection with the Nov. 9, 2013 shooting death of 44-year-old Bennett at a home in the 2600-block of King George Boulevard.
Initially facing trial for murder, Chad pleaded guilty in August to manslaughter.
Tuesday, defense counsel Kelly Merrigan argued Chad’s guilty plea should be a mitigating factor in determining sentence, noting a trial would have been harder on Bennett’s family – and would likely not have ended in a conviction.
“The witnesses are, themselves, deeply troubled people,” Merrigan said, referring to testimony heard during a preliminary inquiry.
“There was rich fodder for the defence to hopefully plant the seed of doubt at a jury trial… and yet my client has not availed himself to the opportunity of a trial.”
According to Merrigan, Bennett was not targeted to die, and the extent of his client’s role in planning the crime remains unclear.
In an agreed statement of facts, the court heard that Bennett was living with his common-law spouse at the time, and that the house was a focal point for illicit drugs.
Prosecutor Suzanne Elliott said Chad had made two visits to the home for such transactions prior to the night Bennett died. On the second, he had been ejected “at the request of Mr. Bennett.”
On the night Bennett was killed, Chad returned at around 11 p.m. with two men and a loaded semi-automatic rifle. Bennett was asleep downstairs, and Chad pushed past a woman who had come to buy drugs. He jumped on the bed, shouting and “poking Bennett with the rifle.”
The gun went off during a struggle, Elliott said.
Chad – who was under court order to not possess firearms – was arrested Nov. 22 and had large amounts of Canadian and Chinese currency and a prohibited .45-calibre Webley revolver, the court heard.
Elliott noted that at that time, Chad already had “a lengthy and significant related record.”
The lawyers agreed a 10-year sentence would be fitting.
In reserving his decision, scheduled for Nov. 27, the judge said he needed time to weigh the submissions, which included details of Chad’s “chaotic childhood” with drug- and alcohol-addicted parents, and victim-impact statements from four of Bennett’s family members.
Carl Bennett, a South Surrey resident, said in a written statement that his son’s death “haunts me.”
Bennett’s sister, Jamie England, told the court she lives with the repercussions of her brother’s death every day; fearing for his children and grandchildren and wondering “if he knew how much I loved him.”
His uncle, Wayne Bennett, described his optimism that his nephew would turn his life around.
“I have always believed that no matter how broken a life becomes, there is always a hope for rehabilitation,” he said. “Unfortunately for Corey, that hope has been tragically snatched away.”
Merrigan said that while the crime cannot be understated, there is hope for his client, whose struggles are rooted in drug addiction.
“Given a different start in life, I think he would’ve done very well,” Merrigan said, noting Chad has been working to advance his education in custody and remains hopeful he will be out of jail in time for his son’s graduation.
In addressing the court, an emotional Chad said he wished he could undo what happened, but “I don’t dare ask forgiveness.”
“I know I’m incapable of providing his family with closure, however, I don’t want my silence to prevent them from attaining any at all.”
Outside court, Chad’s mother expressed regret for her son’s childhood, and hope for his future.
“I was addicted to pills and I wasn’t always there for him,” Yvonne Kelly said. “Sorry I didn’t do a good enough job to raise him.
“He’s not a hopeless case, and he’s not a violent person.”
– with files from Alex Browne