The man who threw a trailer hitch at Barbara Kentner in Thunder Bay, Ont., has been found guilty of manslaughter in her death.
Justice Helen M. Pierce said Monday that the Crown proved Brayden Bushby knew he would seriously injure Kentner, a mother from Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, when he threw the hitch at her from a moving car in January 2017.
Pierce said the Crown also proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Kentner’s injuries from the assault accelerated her death. Kentner died in July 2017 at age 34.
In delivering her reasons to the court, Pierce referenced witness testimony that Bushby said “I got one” after striking Kentner, and that he laughed after throwing the hitch.
The trailer hitch that was entered into evidence at the trial “is heavy enough that it requires two hands to hold it securely,” Pierce said, adding that its impact would be intensified because the vehicle from which it was thrown was moving.
“This was not a snowball,” Pierce said. “I find that it would have been foreseeable to Mr. Bushby that hitting a person with such a heavy object would cause serious injury.”
The trial heard from a forensic pathologist who testified that complications from an abdominal injury — caused by the hitch assault — were the main cause of Kentner’s death.
Bushby, 18 at the time of the attack, admitted throwing the hitch and pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, but not guilty to manslaughter.
His lawyer argued at trial that Kentner’s underlying health condition cast doubt on the true cause of her death.
But Pierce said Monday that she accepted the Crown’s argument that Bushby is responsible for what happened to Kentner after he assaulted her, regardless of whether she was in poor health.
She also accepted evidence from the pathologist who testified that Kentner’s health was clearly in decline after the attack.
The case drew criticism about how the justice system deals with incidents involving Indigenous victims after Bushby’s second-degree murder charge was downgraded to manslaughter and aggravated assault.
Glen Hare, grand council chief of Anishinabek Nation said the verdict is an important one.
“While this verdict will never bring back Barbara, and may not bring much comfort for all those who continue to be deeply impacted by her loss, this guilty verdict is recognizing that she lost her life at the hands of racism,” Hare said in a statement.
“This verdict is a small glimmer of hope that if we all continue to seek justice for these inhumane, undignified acts of violence rooted in racism in a united effort with our brothers, sisters and allies across Turtle Island, that one day they may come to an end and our next seven generations will live in a safer world.”
The trial heard the change was made because space limitations made a jury trial impossible in Thunder Bay during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Crown lawyer Andrew Sadler said it was a priority for the trial to proceed this fall, and the “only way” for that to happen was to have a trial by judge alone, which “could not happen, in this case, on the charge of murder.”
A sentencing hearing will be held on Feb. 9.
With files from the Canadian Press