Testimony has temporarily wrapped up in the Colin John murder and attempted murder trial in Duncan. It’s been an exhausting and emotional three weeks of Janelle Guyatt, left, Derek Descoteau’s girlfriend at the time of his murder, and Derek’s mother Brenda Smith. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Descoteau’s mother, girlfriend reflect on tribulations of murder trial in Island city

Friends a strong support system in getting through testimony details

The murder of Derek Descoteau in Chemainus in May of 2016 has left heavy emotional scars for Janelle Guyatt, his girlfriend at the time, and mother Brenda Smith.

On top of that, Guyatt has physical wounds from a knife attack by accused Colin John that will likely never be completely healed.

The two women talked about the toll the trial has taken on them as they relived details of the murder during three weeks of testimony. Proceedings against John on second-degree murder and attempted murder charges wrapped up in Duncan Supreme Court last week.

Defence lawyer Scott Sheets is seeking a psychiatric assessment of John prior to opening his defence. A pre-conference trial in February will determine a date for resuming the trial in either March or April.

The long delays don’t sit well with Descoteau’s family and friends who’ve already endured more than two and half years waiting for justice to be served.

The trial was also previously halted while a determination was made whether John was fit to continue.

“After the first three days when they put the trial on hold, it felt like the first weeks after he died,” said Smith.

“It makes you not want to do anything,” noted Guyatt. “It puts a damper on everything.”

“When we got that call he was fit to continue, it was a relief,” Smith added. “You don’t have to wait a longer period of time.”

Smith said she was told by the prosecutor five days before the trial that Sheets would be seeking a not criminally responsible defence so she was prepared for the latest delay, but still doesn’t understand it.

“Why did they wait two and a half years to do the not criminally responsible?” she pondered.

Guyatt, only 16 at the time of the incident and still just going on 19 in February, has been a rock throughout the ordeal. She was precise on the stand and brave in the face of what she’s been through.

“She’s my girl,” said Smith.

The two have stayed in touch since Derek’s murder and Guyatt is just like one of the family.

“It’s been rough,” she said. “I just try to make the best of it. All of our friends have been amazing and supportive.”

Guyatt was on the stand for an entire day.

“I had to go through and relive it and be questioned on it,” she conceded. “I’ve been trying to keep busy with work.”

Guyatt completed a hairdressing course through Vancouver Island University since Descoteau’s murder and has been working at Island Hairdressing in Duncan. She faces six to eight months off work, however, for a fourth surgery on her left side to try and repair nerve damage from the attack.

Smith has been in court for most of the trial so far. “Last week was a pretty brutal week,” she said.

That’s when Smith heard from a blood splatter expert about her son suffering 16 stab wounds.

The presentation of dash cam evidence also proved highly sensitive for her.

“You can hear Derek’s last words,” noted Smith. “I was told by the prosecutor I might want to step out of the court.”

She did just that, but has otherwise been there every step of the way. Her daughter Paula Phillips just couldn’t bring herself to go through all the painful details.

Smith and her husband Steve, Derek’s dad Paul and all the family are overwhelmed by the support they’ve received from Derek’s friends.

“I hardly knew any of Derek’s friends,” said Smith.

She said they all send her messages on Mother’s Day on Facebook and provided her with an incredible boost.

“Everybody loves Brenda,” Guyatt grinned.

Having lost another son, Dustin, in a car accident three years earlier, Smith’s willpower has already been tested way above the norm.

She’s comforted by the three memorial cruises through Lake Cowichan and along the Renfrew Road circle route that have been held since Derek’s death. There’s also a memorial on the side of the road about 20 minutes from the Lake Cowichan turnoff with the initials DD and a memorial sign that now stands as a tribute to Derek and Dustin.

“One thing really hurts, Derek had the biggest dreams,” said Smith. “He wanted to be married at 30. He wanted to own his own house.

“His dream was a big house and he was going to rent the basement suite and he was going to have a big garage with many vehicles.”

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