Manslaughter victim’s family says pain never ends
Carolyn Sooley can’t ever erase the memories of her son lying in a Carbonear hospital bed fighting for his life.
“What I saw when I walked into the hospital that day, no mother should ever have to experience,” Sooley said.
David Ryan (front left) talks to lawyer Bob Buckingham after he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Thursday. Ryan and another man attacked Richard Brace, who died three days after the incident in 2005. Brace’s mother Carolyn Sooley (rear, centre) and sister Patricia Whiteway (rear, right) are shown in the back of the courtroom. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram
It was July 1, 2005. Richard Brace had been brutally attacked by two men and was in critical condition.
Sooley sat with her 29-year-old son until, three days later, following unsuccessful surgery to repair a brain hemorrhage, he was declared brain dead and took his last breath.
“It was unbelievable,” she said. “Our hearts are broken beyond repair.”
They were some of the heart-wrenching words Sooley wrote in her victim impact statement which was read by a prosecutor Thursday during the case of a man who took part in the vicious beating that killed Brace.
In Newfoundland Supreme Court in St. John’s, David Ryan pleaded guilty to manslaughter. It came two years after his second-degree murder conviction was overturned on appeal.
However, the 54-year-old — who had served almost seven years in jail when he was originally convicted in May 2007 — likely won’t be going back to prison.
Crown prosecutors Vikas Khaladkar and Mike Murray, along with defence lawyer Bob Buckingham, agreed to a sentence of time served.
Justice Alphonsus Faour opted to reserve his decision on whether or not to accept the joint submission. Instead, the judge said he wanted to review the case law presented by lawyers. He is scheduled to render his decision April 7, when all counsel will be available.
Ryan had been found guilty after he represented himself at his first trial in May 2007 and was sentenced to life in jail without the possibility of parole for 16 years.
However, in February 2012, the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial.
In making its decision, the appeals panel pointed out that Ryan, a man with limited education, could not fully understand the legalities of the trial and was unable to conduct a proper defence.
Ryan, who had been in jail since 2005, was released on bail in March 2012 after the Appeal Court decision.
His second trial was supposed to begin last week, but lawyers said a legal issue had arisen and it was postponed until Thursday.
Ryan’s decision to plead guilty came after extensive discussions between defence lawyers and Crown prosecutors.
Sooley, Brace’s mother, and his sister, Patricia Whiteway, were in court for Thursday’s proceedings. Both their victim impact statements were read in court by Murray.
“There is no greater pain than losing a child, especially in such a cruel and senseless way,” Sooley wrote. “The pain is unimaginable. Life will never be the same again.”
Sooley said her son was a kind and gentle man who would never hurt anyone.
She said the pain she and her family felt nine years ago when Brace died is just as great today.
“It’s still difficult to sleep, thinking about him being left alone and abandoned (after the beating). I’ve been struggling since that day.”
She went on to say, “All I want is justice for Richard. I know nothing will bring him back, but I don’t want my son’s death to be for nothing.”
In Whiteway’s written statement, she said she still finds it hard to believe her brother is not coming back.
“Visiting the cemetery is not the same as sitting down and having a brother-sister chat.”
According to the agreed statement of facts, which were read in court, Brace, of Green’s Harbour, was assaulted three times in the early morning hours of July 1 2005.
It happened at a rented house on Water Street in Carbonear, where Ryan and Brace lived with Brace’s girlfriend, Ashley Wheadon, 19.
Earlier that night during a party at the house, Brace broke up with Wheadon when he saw her lying on a bed with Ryan, with Ryan’s arm around her. Brace joked he would go to a female friend’s house for sex, which angered Wheadon.
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The party moved down the road to that female friend’s house, where a physical altercation broke out between Brace and a 16-year-old male. Brace did nothing to defend himself. After the assault, he went back to the house where he was living.
Later, when Ryan, Wheadon and the youth returned to the house, Ryan and the youth attacked Brace, hitting him in the face and head, three separate times.
Brace curled up into a ball. His nose and lips were swollen, he was bleeding and his eyes were blackened.
The third assaulted happened after Wheadon accused Brace of stealing $35 from her wallet.
After the assault, the youth apologized to Brace, who said it was no big deal and that they were still buddies. He indicated he did not want to go to the hospital and just wanted to go to sleep.
He was found hours later by a female friend in his bedroom, bleeding, unresponsive and unconscious.
Ryan didn’t want her to call an ambulance, saying he didn’t want the cops around. The woman went back to her house and called the ambulance.
In explaining why the Crown agreed to time served, Khaladkar told the judge that it was in keeping with most sentences for manslaughter convictions, which usually carry four- to 10-year jail terms.
He said with Ryan having served almost seven years in jail, it was within the range.
He also pointed out that it was in keeping with the pleas of the two other people charged in the case — Wheadon — who admitted inciting the beating, and the male youth whose blows did the most damage to Brace.
Wheadon and the teenage boy both pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Wheadon was given a conditional sentence of two years less a day. The youth, whose name is protected by a court ban due to his age, was given a three-year sentence in a youth detention centre.
Khaladkar acknowledged that Ryan’s consumption of alcohol and drugs (marijuana and sleeping pills) at the time impaired his decision-making. He said Ryan admitted he got caught up in the anger being directed against Brace and cannot explain why he assaulted him, as he liked Brace.
He said Ryan didn’t intend to kill Brace and has accepted responsibility.
“The loss of a son and brother is difficult, tragic,” Khaladkar said. “However, the guilty plea should provide some kind of relief for the family.”
Khaladkar added that since Ryan was released from jail, he has complied with all conditions, including abiding by a curfew, abstaining from alcohol and reporting to police weekly.
Buckingham agreed the guilty plea has saved the family the stress and strain of a lengthy trial.
He said Ryan has made a number of changes in his life and plans to stay sober by attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
“He has rough times ahead, but he’s committed to becoming a productive member of society,” Buckingham said.
“He understands his guilty plea cannot bring back Mr. Brace. Sometimes he wonders himself why it happened and how it happened. Mr. Brace was a friend and someone he liked.”
When Ryan addressed the court, he was brief.
“I’d like to apologize to the Brace family and I’d like to apologize to the court for going back and forth before getting to this point. That’s about it, my lord.”
Family members and lawyers chose not to speak to reporters after proceedings.