Guthro gets life sentence 0
The death of a Pikwakanagan man three years ago has left a huge hole within his family and the community at large, a superior court judge heard Thursday.
Prior to sentencing Ryan Guthro, 27, to life in prison with the ability to apply for parole 10 years after the date of his arrest, Superior Court Justice Thomas McNamara heard of the lasting impact of Ashley Commanda’s violent death.
On Sept. 10, 2012 Mr. Guthro pleaded guilty to second degree murder for the Sept. 19, 2009 death of Mr. Commanda, 35. After a night of drinking, the two men exchanged words in the early morning hours, which led to Mr. Guthro delivering several blows to head of Mr. Commanda, first with a glass bong and later the fatal blow with a shovel.
Bonnie Commanda called the loss of her brother Ashley a huge tragedy in her life, as they always maintained a close relationship.
“I miss his visits and how he would pop in for a chit-chat and a drink, when we would go hunting, and his special orders for lemon meringue pies,” she told the courtroom filled with Pikwakanagan residents and family and friends of Mr. Guthro.
Since her brother’s death, she has had to deal with anger and major paranoia, she has difficulty out in public and when she hears someone walking behind her, she goes into panic mode, she told the court.
She still can’t comprehend how someone could have done that to another person.
“I want you to look at me,” Ms. Commanda said directly to Mr. Guthro when he lowered his head in the prisoner’s dock. “Real men fight with their fists and cowards fight with a weapon.”
“How could people stand around and not do anything?” she continued. “What is our society coming to?”
The events of Sept. 19, 2009 will forever be engraved in Ms. Commanda’s memory. Two girls went to her house to get her and when she saw her brother’s lifeless body, she knew she’d lost him. Her greatest regret was telling her mother and husband that Ashley had been murdered.
“I will never forget the look on their faces,” she said.
Sherry Kohoko, a member of the Pikwakanagan band council, spoke on behalf of the tight-knit community of approximately 460 people, the majority of whom knew Mr. Commanda.
Since his death, members of the community have expressed a great deal of fear and anger towards Mr. Guthro.
“We don’t want him (Guthro) back at Pikwakanagan,” she said emphatically.
The events of Sept. 19, 2009 have created a feeling of sorrow in the community and created a divide between families, she told the court.
People who saw Mr. Commanda lying in the street are still horrified by what they witnessed and some people still won’t drive or walk down the road, Ms. Kohoko noted.
The community will always remember Mr. Commanda as a talented carpenter who contributed to the community by having a hand in creating a number of buildings and houses. He also participated in the cultural harvest and shared a great sense of humour and sense of community pride.
“He was a proud Algonquin man,” she said. “He will forever be missed but never forgotten for his brave actions.”
Others prepared victim impact statements, although they didn’t read them in open court. Five were read by the Crown attorney, Peter Barnes.
Brother-in-law Vince Commanda wrote the past three years have been a roller coaster of emotions, especially when the trial was postponed in 2010.
The victim’s sister, Sally Towns, wrote she suffers from anxiety and often breaks down because of anger. She has also suffered from sleepless nights and has often wondered how someone could do something so damaging.
Tanya Thom, the mother of Mr. Commanda’s oldest son, talked about her son being deprived of life with his father. To this day, she is traumatized by the events and feels pain for what her son is lost.
On Sept. 19, 2009 Leslie Commanda not only lost his brother but his best friend. In his statement, he recalled the good times they shared over the years, including while hunting. He wasn’t sleeping or eating and he wrote that he turned to drinking to numb the pain. He also wrote that he was guilty he was not there that morning to help his brother.
He also expressed remorse for the children his brother left behind, including his son who never got to experience the father/son hunt.
“It has been hell,” Mr. Barnes read. “I hope he can rest in peace. I will always think of him as a hero for trying to help others.”
Mr. Commanda’s friend Joanne Whiteduck wrote in her statement that she had difficulty sleeping because every time she closed her eyes, she saw him lying on the road and it made her cry. She continues to experience anxiety.
Mr. Guthro addressed the court, turning in the prison dock to face Mr. Commanda’s family as he read from a double-sided piece of lined paper.
He acknowledged he understands no words will fill the emptiness in their hearts or replace the loss they have endured.
“I would like to let you know I am truly sorry and extremely ashamed of the tragic mistakes that I made,” he said.
“I take responsibility for the actions that took place, for the hurt, pain and anguish that has been caused for your families and also my family and friends as well,” Mr. Guthro read. “I know that this was senseless and that this could have been preventable. I now think of everything that’s now lost and the things he will never experience.”
He hopes in time the family will begin to find peace and heal, he said.
He closed with some words of advice to others in the hopes of preventing another tragic case.
“The consequences of drinking and drug use can be a deadly combination when in the wrong hands and a nightmare you cannot ever wake up from,” he said.
Mr. Barnes credited Mr. Guthro for pleading guilty and sparing the jury, witnesses and the family from sitting through a trial, particularly around the anniversary of Mr. Commanda’s death. He hopes that Thursday’s sentencing gives the family the closure it desires.
Defence attorney Jeff Schroeder called it a rare occasion when counsel in a murder case can stand before the judge and advise him that the family and investigating officers have been consulted and are bringing forward a joint position on the period of parole ineligibility.
Mr. Schroeder pointed out that since his incarceration, Mr. Guthro has taken steps to complete a couple of courses, including communications, entrepreneurship and parenting classes.
He also provided a number of letters in support of his client, including from his mother, aunts and uncles, and friends, who were all in attendance for the proceedings.
In Mr. Schroeder’s estimation, his client is not a lost cause and he is someone who could successfully be reintegrated into the community following his penitentiary sentence.
“I do believe you still have a chance to become a contributing member of society,” Justice McNamara said in delivering the sentence.
The judge encouraged Mr. Guthro to continue steps towards rehabilitation while in custody, as he will be recommending to the parole board that he be released after 10 years, if he continues to make improvements. Mr. Guthro has been in custody since the day of the murder.
Justice McNamara ordered Mr. Guthro provide a DNA sample for the national registry and imposed a lifetime ban on owning or possessing weapons.