VANCOUVER — A Surrey man who stabbed his stepson in the heart during a booze-addled family spat over changing television channels during the 2012 Grey Cup game has lost an appeal of his four-year prison sentence for manslaughter.
William Engebretsen, 57, stabbed his stepson Jeremy McLellan, 33, in the heart with a large knife as the victim was sitting in a chair watching TV with his mother.
Engebretsen pleaded guilty to manslaughter in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster and the Crown sought a sentence of four to six years while the defence argued for a suspended sentence and probation.
Justice Robin Baird sentenced Engebretsen to four years, but shaved five months off that for time served for a net sentence of three years and seven months.
The stabbing happened Nov. 25, 2012 — Grey Cup Sunday, with the Toronto Argonauts versus the Calgary Stampeders. The court heard Engebretsen had spent most of that day and the previous day binge drinking. After work, McLellan came by Engebretsen’s home at about 5 p.m. and settled in to watch TV with his mom.
The court heard Engebretsen emerged from his bedroom, where he’d been drinking and napping, announced he wanted to watch the football game and was told, “If you ask nicely, maybe we’ll do it.”
Engebretsen then went into the kitchen to prepare frozen pizza.
“I do not know what happened while you were in the kitchen,” Baird told him, in court. “I have been given no insight into what was going through your head, or what it was that motivated you to go into your bedroom and pick up this enormous knife…It is a nasty looking knife, too, that you told me you bought at a rummage sale, I have no idea why.
“So I cannot begin to imagine what happened that night, and you cannot help,” Baird said. “You say you cannot remember what you did or why because you were so drunk. But the fact is that you armed yourself with that knife, you went back into the room where your common law and her son were watching television, you approached Jeremy McLellan and you stabbed him once in the heart. The wound you inflicted killed him. He died about an hour later.”
The court heard that Engebretsen knew his stepson since McLellan was a 10 years old boy and the pair had a “contentious and mutually hostile relationship.” Their shared “history of conflict and acrimony” resulted in the police attending the home on numerous occasions to deal with their conflicts, the court heard.
“What happened here,” Baird told Engebretsen, “was that you were extremely drunk. I mean, 292 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood is colossal.
“And in that state of advanced drunkeness,” the judge continued, “you decided that you had enough of Jeremy, and you did something demonstrative and violent which I know to a perfect certainty you would never have done if sober.
“If you had been sober, it would have never occurred to you to do any such thing. This is the pernicious thing about alcohol. It can lead to catastrophe when it is abused. It can lead an otherwise gentle, law-abiding person like you to commit unspeakable acts of violence. I have to emphasize that what you did was appalling. There is no other way of looking at it.”
The court heard the wife and mother often sided with her son.
“She has lost her son and best friend. A long-term marriage-like relationship was destroyed,” Baird noted. “She has suffered a great deal.”
Baird said the “mystery is compounded” by the letters of support Engebretsen received from family, friends and employers indicating he’s a gentle “peace-loving” man with no history of violence.
In Canada, a manslaughter conviction can draw a sentence ranging from a suspended sentence to life imprisonment.
Engebretsen tried to appeal his four-year sentence, arguing that Baird failed to properly consider the history of abuse the victim allegedly inflicted on him and had wrongfully concluded that the incident leading to McLellan’s death wasn’t a “near accident”,
But the Appeal Court of B.C. upheld the sentence.
Appeal Court Justice David Harris noted the sentencing judge was asked to treat the case as “analogous to battered spouse syndrome,” with Engebretsen as the victim and McLellan the abuser. Baird rejected the analogy but accepted that McClellan was violent with his stepdad from time to time.
“As I see it, the judge’s sensitivity to the family dynamics and the stresses they imposed on the appellant played a significant role in reducing the sentence to the bottom of the range, when in all circumstances it might well have been materially higher,” Harris decided.
“Further, there is no merit in the argument that the death of the victim was a ‘near accident.’ The facts of what happened are clear enough. The appellant went to the bedroom to get a large and vicious knife and then stabbed the victim in the heart. The fact that the appellant has no memory of what he did or why he did it does not transform the incident itself into a ‘near accident.'”
Appeal court judges David Frankel and Richard Goepel agreed with Harris.