Loved ones, friends and several generations of Semiahmoo First Nation families met at Surrey Provincial Court Monday as the trial began for two youths accused in the murder of Paul Prestbakmo.
Outside the courthouse, Angela Prestbakmo, Paul’s sister, explained that the family’s show of support is not only for loved ones of her brother, but for everyone who has been victimized by the crime, including people who have been subpoenaed to testify.
“I haven’t been able to sleep,” Angela told Peace Arch News. “I’m really worried about the (witnesses) that are coming and I hope they understand the community is there to support them and we’re trying our best.
“It’s tough… it’s tough.”
Prestbakmo, 45, was stabbed to death in the early morning hours of Aug. 16, 2019, in a parking lot at the southwest corner of 18 Avenue and 152 Street, shortly after stepping outside to take out his trash and have a cigarette. A month later, police announced charges against two teens in connection with the crime.
And one month after that, in October, police announced further charges of aggravated assault against the same teens, in connection with an assault that occurred just hours before Prestbakmo was killed. It was an assault that police said left a White Rock senior with life-changing injuries.
The identities of the accused are protected under a publication ban due to their age. The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said in October 2019 that the accused were 15 and 16 years old at that time.
In court Monday, both accused entered not-guilty pleas to aggravated assault and second-degree murder charges.
In her opening remarks, Crown counsel Stephanie Sfikas painted a picture of what allegedly took place that summer evening, and noted that evidence includes DNA, CCTV footage, blood splatter evidence and witness accounts.
Sfikas told the court the evidence will show that the two accused were at a house party that evening, and both were upset with their girlfriends.
The pair had left the party, Sfikas said, to get cigarettes when they ran into, and allegedly assaulted, the first victim. Following the assault, she said, the two accused returned to the house party.
“They left the party again about 15 minutes after their initial return, saying that they needed to go for another walk to calm down. This time, each carrying a knife,” Sfikas told the court.
Sfikas told the court that the accused encountered Prestbakmo – a popular mechanic – outside the McDonald’s restaurant in the Semiahmoo Shopping Centre and attacked him, stabbing him 42 times in the chest, abdomen, back, neck and left arm.
After the attack, Sfikas said, the two accused returned once again to the party.
The stabbing took place across the street from the South Surrey RCMP police detachment. Surrey RCMP Const. Robert Jinda, who was the first witness called to the stand, told the court he was on duty that evening and was sitting in his vehicle, in the process of rolling up his window, when he heard an unusual sound.
He told the court he wasn’t sure what the sound was, but it caught his attention.
“It was a sound that stuck with me,” Jinda told the court.
Jinda said he searched the area and located a man lying on the ground and shouted to him.
“The person yelled back to me that they were stabbed and they were dying,” Jinda said.
Another officer who was called to the witness stand described observing, during processing, what appeared to be blood on the hands and shoes of one of the accused.
Photos shown in court Tuesday morning of a residence documented as part of the investigation highlighted areas of particular interest to police. Numbered yellow markers denoted everything from reddish-brown marks or stains found near a doorknob and adjacent to a light switch, to where cellphones and knives were located.
“We were looking for knives that appeared to be out of context,” an officer testified.
Dog handler Const. Christopher Cottrill testified Tuesday that his canine partner is trained to track the freshest human scent from a scene. After leading Cottrill to a South Surrey home on the morning in question, the dog nosed the front door, Cottrill said, which “indicated to me that the track continued inside the residence.”
The trial was to continue through Thursday (Jan. 14) this week, and Prestbakmo’s family has been told it’s expected to maintain a four-days-per-week schedule for the next three months.
Outside court Tuesday, two of his siblings, Liz and Steve, expressed thanks to those who have supported the family along the way. They also spoke of their brother’s patience with and love for kids, describing Paul as a kid at heart himself.
“He would’ve been a good dad,” Steve said.
– with files from Tracy Holmes