Woman pleads guilty to stabbing friend 41 times

NEW WESTMINSTER – Jessica Ashley Hanley, 25, has pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2012 stabbing death of her best friend Tashina Rae Sutherland.

Jessica Ashley Hanley, now 25, killed Tashina Rae Sutherland, 22, inside a small rancher at 10593 138th St. in Whalley, on April 26, 2012.

Justice Elizabeth Arnold-Bailey was expected to render her decision on Wednesday morning. See the Now’s website for her sentencing decision.

Hanley pleaded guilty to the lesser offence of manslaughter on Monday, at the beginning of the third week of her seconddegree murder trial in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster.

The Crown and defence submitted a joint submission for a 10-year sentence. Minus time served, the sentence would be seven years and nine months.

Hanley faced the victim’s family in court Tuesday.

"I want to say I’m sorry for all the pain and confusion that I’ve caused," she told them.

Earlier in the trial, the court heard testimony that Hanley and Sutherland had been partying the night before her death, drinking. Hanley’s boyfriend testified he’d bought a half-gram of cocaine and gave it to Sutherland. Outside court, though, Sutherland’s kin insisted she would not have involved herself in such things.

Hanley’s boyfriend had also earlier testified Sutherland was "very happy, bubbly," and had "a lust for life."

During Hanley’s interview with police at the Surrey RCMP detachment, however, the accused murderer suggested the stabbing was an assisted suicide.

"She wanted me to kill her and then kill myself, and I was like, no way," Hanley said.

"I hugged her and I said no, I’m not going to do it," she said, adding that Sutherland "got upset" at her because "I wimped out."

The interviewing police officer asked Hanley about a text message she’d sent seeking advice on what chemicals to use to get blood out of a wooden floor. He noted she had also texted a friend of her boyfriend’s with the message, "I just killed her. I just said goodbye to my sis."

Hanley told the officer, "I just stabbed her with the big knife. I don’t know why."

Crown prosecutor Jennifer Lopes said Tuesday that if Sutherland actually wanted to die, as Hanley claimed, Hanley’s appropriate course of action would have been to call 911 to get help for her vulnerable friend, rather than stabbing her.

Crown prosecutor Angela Lee presented seven victim impact statements Tuesday, on behalf of Sutherland’s family.

"I have nothing but a broken heart to replace her," said her cousin, Darian Acoose. "She was a good woman with a heart of gold… our family will always be torn apart."

Shelley Pelletier, Sutherland’s great aunt, wrote that she can still hear Sutherland’s loud laugh. "My heart smashed into a million pieces," she told the court.

Roger Sterling, her grandfather, says he doesn’t trust people now. "This death has made me ill," he said. "She was a bright star, getting ever brighter… my life is empty."

Her brother, Travis Sutherland, is devastated. "Tashina had so much to live for," he said. "I think about my sister every minute, every day."

Her younger sister, Nicole Sutherland, said she cries every day for her. "It cuts me deep she was taken from us," she said. "My sister was smart, beautiful, and was always there for me."

As for Hanley, she said, "I will never forgive her."

Melissa Sutherland, the victim’s mom, said the fact she’ll never again hear her daughter’s laugh or feel her hugs gives her "devastating pain."

And Sutherland’s stepfather, Conrad Gordon, echoed that. "The loss I suffer here is monumental. I’ve lost my little girl."

Hanley’s lawyer, Jordan Watt, called it "a very tragic case" involving a "horrible tragic offence." His client’s life has been tragic, too, he said, but added that by no means excuses her crime but "merely puts forward an explanation why."

A high school drop out at Grade 9, Hanley had a "chaotic" upbringing that saw her taken from her mother at six days old. Having no contact with her mom, and never meeting her dad, she was raised by her stepdad. After running away, and a suicide attempt, Watt said, "she became a permanent ward of the state."

Hanley began taking hard drugs like methamphetamine when she was 14 and went through a "revolving door" of group homes and foster families. "She was involved in prostitution," Watt said. At age 19 she had a son, who lives with her stepdad. As for her mental health, he added, she has "characteristics of borderline personality disorder.

"Miss Hanley is very remorseful for what she has done and this is something she is going to have to live with for the rest of her life," Watt said. This remorse is genuine."

tzytaruk@thenownewspaper.com