A Surrey man’s drug addiction propelled him into a downward spiral that resulted in his being charged in relation to the killing of an Abbotsford woman, his lawyer said Monday during his sentencing hearing.
Sukhpal Johal, 29, previously pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder in relation to the April 2009 death of Kulwinder Gill, 42, of Abbotsford, and appeared this week in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster.
An additional charge of accessory after the fact was stayed.
The judge, who ruled on Tuesday, agreed with the Crown and defence lawyers’ joint submission that Johal should receive a 10-year jail term.
Johal has been in custody since his arrest, and, taking into account double credit for time already served, he will spend another three and a half years in prison. He was also given a lifetime weapons ban.
Evidence presented in court was placed under a publication ban, as two other men charged in the case – Gurpreet Atwal, 29, and Kulwinder’s husband, Iqbal Gill, 52, both of Abbotsford – have yet to go to trial, each on a charge of first-degree murder.
Atwal is scheduled to go to trial before a jury in September, while Gill’s trial is set for May 2017.
A fourth man, Jaspreet Sohi, 31, of Surrey pleaded guilty in October 2015 to a charge of being an accessory to murder after the fact and was sentenced to time served plus one day in jail. A first-degree murder charge was stayed.
The four men were charged in April 2013 – four years after Kulwinder’s death.
The publication ban prohibits outlining the role that each man allegedly played in the killing.
Kulwinder had been out for a walk with her husband on April 27, 2009, when she was struck by a pickup truck in the rural area of Townshipline and Bell roads, east of Highway 11.
Responding officers were flagged down by her husband, who led them to a water-filled ditch, where Gill had been thrown by the impact.
A suspect vehicle with signs of damage was seized by police on acreage several blocks away.
The incident was initially believed to be a hit-and-run collision, but police soon began investigating it as a suspicious death.
At Johal’s sentencing hearing on Monday, defence lawyer Georgia Docolas said the judge should consider Johal’s guilty plea as a mitigating factor in sentencing, because it shows he is remorseful.
She said Johal’s rehabilitative efforts he has made during his three years in custody should also be taken into account, as should the “relatively minor” role he played in the crime.
Prior to his involvement in Gill’s death, Johal was a “low-level drug dealer and criminal” who was addicted to drugs and associated with “negative peers,” Docolas said. She said he had hit “rock bottom” around the time of Kulwinder’s death.
She said that since Johal’s incarceration, he has taken and completed every program available to him, including on topics such as substance abuse, employability skills, healthy relationships, money management and conflict resolution.
Docolas said Johal plans to remain clean and sober once released from prison, and will return to the trucking business he once started.
Crown lawyer Rod Flannigan said the prosecution and defence attorneys engaged in “serious and thorough negotiations” – which included combing through thousands of pages of evidence – to arrive at their joint sentencing recommendation.
A victim impact statement from Kulwinder’s father was presented at the hearing, and Flannigan read an excerpt in court.
Her father stated that the death has left him bitter, without hope and with failing health.
“I’m only alive for the sake of living,” he wrote in the statement.