A Nanaimo man was given a life sentence with the minimum parole ineligibility period of 10 years for the murder of a young mother in a downtown park almost two years ago.
Christopher James Robinson, 26, who entered a surprise guilty plea to the second-degree murder charge just days before his trial was scheduled to begin in late February, learned his fate from B.C. Supreme Court Judge Miriam Maisonville Monday.
Emergency crews found 22-year-old Brittany Elsie Baird dead on Milford Crescent near Selby Street May 25, 2011, at about 11 p.m.
Police charged Robinson and Marcus Brandon Parry with second-degree murder, but the week before the trial was scheduled to begin, Robinson entered a guilty plea and the Crown stayed charges against Parry.
During Crown and defense submissions at the sentencing hearing last month, the court heard that Baird apparently turned to street-level drug trafficking to get the money needed to regain custody of her one-year-old son.
The night of the murder, Robinson arranged to meet Baird at Nob Hill Park to buy some cocaine and during a confrontation over the drugs, Robinson stabbed Baird eight times in the chest, neck and head.
Afterwards, Robinson fled the scene with Parry and a female friend, both of whom said they did not witness the confrontation but could hear a woman screaming.
Emotions ran high in the courtroom Monday as Maisonville read out her decision, which included touching on the impact Baird’s death has had.
The victim’s parents, Shirley and Ronnie Baird, have had to take over raising their three-year-old grandson, who carries his favourite blanket – an item he knows came from his mother – everywhere.
Baird’s brother, Ashley, who did not submit a victim impact statement but spoke with Crown lawyers, told prosecutors he found Christmas unbearable in his sister’s absence.
“I acknowledge the Bairds’ deep pain and their loss,” said Maisonville.
A second-degree murder conviction comes with a mandatory life sentence and the issue at hand Monday was the parole ineligibility period, which Maisonville set at 10 years – the period recommended by both Crown and defence lawyers – taking into account Robinson’s age and his guilty plea.
Crown counsel Frank Dubenski said outside the courtroom that he felt Maisonville’s ruling was thoughtful and considerate, as she spent a great deal of time recognizing the pain the victim’s family continues to experience.
He said the case impacted people beyond the family, from Nob Hill-area residents who heard Baird screaming, to first responders, to those in the justice system who have dealt with the file.
“It’s extraordinarily sad that we have a young mother in this community who is dead and a young man who is going to jail for the rest of his life,” said Dubenski. “It seems senseless to any of us that have worked in the justice system to see this kind of crime, knowing that there were interventions that may have prevented people from making certain lifestyle decisions that led to it and it’s just an incredibly sad story.”
Peter Hertzberg, Robinson’s lawyer, said his client chose to plead guilty after hearing some personal circumstances about the Baird family.
“He couldn’t bear any longer the pain he had caused to the family,” he said.