Court hears of Gopaul’s troubled past as he pleads guilty in Paskall death

SURREY — Yosef Jomo Gopaul was sentenced to 12 years — minus 18 months time served — after pleading guilty in the death of Surrey hockey mom Julie Paskall.

Gopaul had originally been charged with second-degree murder after Paskall, 53, died two days after being hit in the head with a rock outside Newton Arena on Dec. 29, 2013, when she was picking up her son from hockey.

But Gopaul pled guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and robbery Friday morning (May 22) in Surrey Provincial Court.

The sentence includes two years for an attack that occurred on Dec. 16, before the attack on Paskall, where Gopaul hit another woman over the head with a 2.6-pound rock, subsequently robbing her.

"These were crimes that terrorized a community. And they’ve caused many, many people, citizens in that area, to be afraid to be out and about in the community that they call home," said Crown lawyer Wendy Stephen.

Stephen read from the agreed statement of facts and said Gopaul has maintained that he never intended to kill Paskall, only to knock her out to steal her purse.

Paskall fell face-first into the pavement after Gopaul threw a rock at her head, causing her heart to stop. Her autopsy revealed she died of cardiac arrhythmia, a type of heart disease. This made her more vulnerable to death in situations of high stress or anxiety, the court heard.

"Once we considered all of the evidence, we had concluded that was not necessarily going to happen and we decided the appropriate plea was to manslaughter," Stephen said of the downgraded charge.

"Unfortunately some of the information released to the public was that she was brutally beaten, viciously beaten, that sort of thing. In fact, she was struck once on the back of her head and she fell forward as a result of that."

Stephen and defence lawyer Simon Buck offered a joint submission for 12 years for the two crimes, which Judge Paul Dohm approved.  

Judge Dohm said manslaughter was "appropriate" given the facts of the case, but added, "These crimes did terrorize the community."

Gopaul spoke in court Friday morning, apologizing for his actions and to the Paskall family.

"I never thought in a million years the blood of someone would be on my hands… I know you most likely hate me but I just have to let you know how truly sorry I am," said Gopaul.

He told the judge he plans to get help and complete his high school education while serving his sentence.

"This way I may do better and be a better member of community and society. Maybe even somehow, who knows, I may be able to help kids who struggle with anger and aggression, maybe a better person and stop the cycle of crime."

Gopaul looked to the floor with a blank stare as several family members read emotional victim impact statements in court. Many tears were shed.

Paskall was described as selfless and generous, someone who did everything for her children and family.

Her husband Al said he’s been "shattered" since her death.

"What’s my life now? I have no life. I just exist. I’m on autopilot…. I have no patience… I’m so quick to anger now.

"I cry at any time… I still wake up thinking she’s there right beside me. I catch myself talking to her."

His voice breaking, he said, "I would give everything I have in life for just five more minutes with her."

Her daughter, Rhiannon, has cerebral palsy and said growing up that proved challenging for her and her mom. But Paskall would always tell her, "There’s no such thing as can’t."

Paskall taught Rhiannon how to walk multiple times after her many surgeries – how to get back up. But since her mother was taken from her, she said she feels lost.

"I’ve fallen down and I’m not sure I can get up from this one."

Outside the courthouse after the sentencing, his immediate family declined comment.

But Paskall’s sister-in-law, Joan Ross, said, "We’re OK with it."

Paskall’s cousin Sharon Lygo added, "It could’ve been worse.

"It’s 10 years of him off the street. You have to hope he will rehabilitate himself, he’s still young," Lygo continued. "But really, even if he got 50 years, it wouldn’t have been enough. Nothing would ever be enough. But at least there’s the acknowledgement."

GOPAUL’S BACKGROUND

Defence lawyer Simon Buck told the court Gopaul was his mother’s only child, and that he had eight siblings on his father’s side. His father left when he was five, and he lived with his mother.

His life was normal until a traumatic event when he was seven, Buck said, when his mother was attacked and raped by three men in their Ottawa apartment, and jumped out of the 11-storey unit to escape.

She remains disabled to this day.

Gopaul was not there at the time of his mother’s attack, but Buck said it had a "very severe impact" on Gopaul’s emotional state. He had already been diagnosed with ADHD.

"He became withheld, agitated and angry," said Buck.

Gopaul left school in Grade 9 and began to drink and do drugs, the court heard.

He received his first criminal charge at age 16.

After coming to Surrey in the summer of 2013, he applied for social assistance and was denied, Buck said, and he began committing crimes to get money.

He noted Gopaul is remorseful and said he was "crying and apologizing" after his arrest.

Gopaul, now 28, came to Surrey from Ontario eight weeks prior to the attack. He was considered a high risk to re-offend after an Ontario conviction for attacking a woman on New Year’s Day 2010.

Parole Board of Canada documents say Gopaul has gang affiliations and a "history of both drug and alcohol abuse" that was considered a factor in the incident.

A July 2012 decision on Gopaul’s release said he appeared to have difficulty considering the short- and long-term consequences of his actions, and noted he had shown little remorse or insight into the violent attack on a woman he followed from a bar at 2:30 a.m. on morning.

The victim recalled "being struck with punches and kicks and fighting back and being dragged by the hood of her jacket while she was naked from the waist down."

Gopaul pushed the woman into a frozen creek as he fled.

Crown lawyer Stephen noted that at age 28, Gopaul has 29 criminal convictions. Six of those are crimes of violence, including assault with a weapon and his most recent conviction for aggravated assault.

amy.reid@thenownewspaper.com

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