Family and friends of Burnaby grad Branson Sanders wept and embraced one another as they listened to the grisly details of the 20-year-old’s death in court on Friday afternoon.
Sanders, they heard, was lured to a house in Surrey in late November 2011 by two acquaintances, where he was ambushed and fatally stabbed with a machete.
His charred remains were discovered days later in a Burnaby park by a man walking his dog. Much of his body had third-degree burns and he had to be identified through fingerprints. The coroner could not determine the cause of death, but the lack of soot in his airway suggested he was burned after he died, the court heard.
A sentencing hearing was held in B.C. Provincial Court in Surrey on Friday for Brandon Nandan and Shakib Shakib, who both pleaded guilty to manslaughter late last year for their role in Sanders’ death.
Many members of both the killers’ and victim’s families attended the emotional hearing.
Crown counsel told Judge Michael Hicks Nandan was a drug dealer and that cellphone records show he and Shakib talked about hurting Sanders in the days prior to his death. It isn’t clear what instigated the dispute.
In a text message to Shakib, Nandan said he was “playing the buddy/buddy role” with Sanders and hoped he would pass out so they could carry out their plan. That didn’t happen, however, and instead, Shakib hid in the basement of Nandan’s Surrey home and when Sanders went downstairs, Shakib thrust a machete at him. A witness, said Crown, said they heard Sanders say, “Please bro, I’m gonna bleed out.”
Neither Shakib or Nandan tried to help him.
There was little forensic evidence, said Crown, because the accused had not only burned the body, but also removed bloodied flooring and repaired damaged walls.
A recording of Branson’s mom, Hannele Sairanen, reading her victim impact statement was played in court, in which she spoke of her “beautiful, precious” only child she welcomed into the world July 27, 1991.
She talked about the isolation she’s felt during the three years it’s taken for her son’s case to get to this point and the cruel and senseless manner in which his life was “snuffed out.”
“As a mother, I feel bruised, beaten and forever scarred.”
Sairanen said though her son had his own problems, he always showed concern for his friends and family.
“The impact he made on our lives is immeasurable,” she said. “There is no moving on.”
In a joint sentencing submission, both Crown and defence lawyers recommended a six-year sentence each for Shakib and Nandan.
With one-to-one credit for time served, Nandan, who is not currently in custody, would have about five-and-a-half years of his sentence remaining, while Shakib, who is in custody, would have about five years, four months remaining.
While Shakib chose not to say anything in court Friday, Nandan stood and apologized, facing Sanders’ family and friends through the glass of the high-security courtroom.
“I really, really am sorry,” said Nandan.
Ian Donaldson, Nandan’s defence lawyer, noted his client was 18 at the time of Branson’s death and expressed not only remorse, but an understanding of the pain he’s caused.
“Branson was his friend – he was a good friend,” said Donaldson, adding Nandan’s actions that night were out of character for the “thoughtful, responsible” young man.
After the murder, said Donaldson, Nandan stopped doing drugs and drinking. Donaldson tried to convince the judge that because Nandan was 18 at the time of the crime and has no prior record, the six months jail time served should count for a bit more, maybe nine months, he suggested.
Shakib’s lawyer, Jordan Allingham, said though he was planning on fighting with Sanders, his client had no intention to use the machete, only to scare the victim with it.
In a letter to the court, Shakib said he was “truly sorry from the bottom of his heart” and was hoping to learn from his jail sentence and use it as a starting point to turn his life around. Shakib, who had just turned 19 at the time of the murder, was raised in Delta, but graduated from Burnaby Mountain Secondary.
Shakib and Nandan will be sentenced April 10.
A third man, who cannot be named because he was a young offender at the time of Sanders’ death, also pleaded guilty to obstructing justice in the case. His sentencing is scheduled for April 15.