UPDATED: Kenneth Jacob Fenton has been sentenced to four years behind bars for his role in the death of West Shore RCMP Const. Sarah Beckett. He will also be prohibited from driving for five years following his incarceration in a federal prison.
Beckett’s family and friends were visibly upset in Western Communities Court Friday as Judge Ron Lamperson read his decision to a packed courtroom and those watching via video in another room for the overflowing crowd. Tears glistened on cheeks as an exacerbated sigh swept over the crowd when the sentence was handed down. Many stared in disbelief as the maximum could have been life in prison.
“Clearly, there’s no sentence which I could impose which would bring Const. Beckett back or put an end to the emotional pain in which her family and friends are suffering,” Lamperson said. “We must be clear however, that a sentence imposed by the court cannot be based upon vengeance … This is one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever hard to make.”
After reiterating the events leading up to the crash, Fenton’s personal history and similar case law, Lamperson stated that his sentencing decision was based on the community’s condemnation of Fenton’s criminal conduct, while finding that defence counsel’s suggestion of three years falls short.
Crown counsel had asked for three to five years of imprisonment and an eight-to-10-year driving prohibition upon release, while Fenton’s lawyers had requested three years and a five-year driving prohibition that would start at the time of sentencing.
“I recognize that to many members of the community the sentence I have imposed will seem inadequate,” Lamperson said. “There is no sentence I could impose which would bring Sarah Beckett back to life. In deciding the proper sentence to impose in this case, I must follow the law as it was developed. In particular, I must be guided by the sentences which have been imposed in past cases of impaired driving causing death in British Columbia.”
While the judge believes it’s unlikely Fenton will re-offend, he hopes this sentence will deter other members of the community from driving when impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Fenton was also sentenced to three years in jail for dangerous driving causing death, which will be served at the same time. At the request of his lawyers, the judge made a recommendation that Fenton serve his sentence at an institution on Vancouver Island.
Outside of the courthouse, Alisia Adams, spokesperson for B.C. Prosecution Service, addressed comments that Crown and the system had fail Beckett.
“In this case it’s clear that the family, and the friends, and the colleagues of Const. Beckett have experienced a profound loss. We recognize their pain. But in approaching our task as Crown counsel, we have to look objectively and impartially at the evidence and what it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Asked to respond to those in the community that believe this sentence isn’t long enough, defence lawyer Dale Marshall simply said, “everyone’s entitled to their opinion.”
“It’s a delicate balancing act that the judge has to perform in any sentencing case. He has carefully considered all of the facts he possibly has to determine what that sentence is and he’s done that,” Marshall said. “I imagine for everybody this is just one more step in the healing process … There’s families that have been torn apart by this.”
West Shore RCMP Const. Alex Berube spoke a little more to that. “There will never be a sentence that will bring Sarah back … All I can say at this point is that it will bring some sort of closure to at least some of the people, everybody will deal with it differently … We’re still mourning our loss,” Berube said.
“It’s very hard for the family, obviously, as you can tell. We’re all human beings – even the police force. It’s a hard day, there’s no question about it.”
As for how the department will continue to honour Beckett, he said they’ve been doing that everyday since the crash by putting on their uniforms and continuing to protect the community. “There will still be impaired drivers out there and we’ll be there to catch them.”
Impaired driving has lifelong devastating consequences. #enoughsaid
— West Shore RCMP (@WestshoreRCMP) July 14, 2017