WAYWAYSEECAPPO FIRST NATION — A man who abused his longtime girlfriend was stabbed to death by her during a drunken argument.
Such tragedies affect the whole community, an elder says, and youth need to be encouraged and supported if things are going to change.
He delivered that message Monday during a sentencing circle in which the killer was sentenced to jail and probation.
"Become whatever you want, without the use of alcohol and drugs," said Norbert Tanner, a member of the Council of Elders for Waywayseecappo Court.
"You can be a doctor, a lawyer, whatever you want to be."
Shalla Anne Bell, 39, was sentenced to 36 months in prison minus credit for 30 months pre-sentence custody, leaving six months in jail to serve followed by probation.
Citing her "disturbing" past in which she was repeatedly abused, Judge John Combs said that, based on case law, it was the lowest sentence he could give.
Sentencing circles are relatively rare, especially for major crimes.
Such hearings are an option for aboriginal offenders. Members of the community and elders are invited to join in the hearing to help the judge craft a sentence.
Together, the judge, lawyers, residents and family of those affected discuss the offence, contributing factors, sentencing options and reintegrating the offender into the community.
First, though, Crown attorney Ron Toews shared the facts of the case.
He said Bell stabbed Lee Grant Brandon during an argument at a Waywayseecappo home on Aug. 1, 2015.
However, what exactly happened will remain a mystery as Bell’s lawyer told court that she can’t remember because she was drinking that night. Bell has said that she and Brandon were heavily intoxicated.
Toews said police were called to a home around 9 p.m. by a crying, hysterical female. That female appears to have been Bell who was distraught when she met police outside the house.
She wasn’t wearing shoes and had blood on her clothes, and told officers to hurry up and get inside because she had stabbed Brandon.
Brandon’s body was found lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Toews said an autopsy later showed that the fatal wound was a stab to his heart.
Brandon’s mother had been at the home about an hour prior to the incident and had witnessed the couple fighting, Toews said.
With the confrontation turning physical, Brandon’s mother took one of her grandchildren, who was witnessing the fight, to her own home.
As she left, she noted that Lee was overpowering Bell.
However, Toews said, it’s not clear when Bell armed herself, or even with what. Perhaps it was one of two knives seized by police, but investigators couldn’t tell which was the weapon.
Toews said that both Bell and Brandon had sustained injuries in the fight. When police questioned her, Bell was noted to have a black eye.
She was charged with second-degree murder, but later pleaded guilty to manslaughter for which she was sentenced on Monday.
Toews said that Bell and Brandon had been in an on-and-off relationship for about 14 years.
Defence lawyer Bob Harrison said that, but for the lack of evidence surrounding the killing, he would have mounted a "battered wife" defence.
Bell has told authorities that Brandon, who was much larger than her, would beat her and subject her to emotional, mental and verbal abuse.
More than a dozen times during the relationship, she had threatened to commit suicide to get Brandon to stop beating her.
One relative said that the couple lost all of their belongings in fire a couple of years prior, an event that hurried the deterioration of their relationship.
Bell said her partner was loving but turned violent when he was drinking. Drug and alcohol use made their financial problems worse.
Despite the abuse, Bell told the writer of her pre-sentence report that she missed Brandon.
"I miss him myself, and I have never stopped loving him as his mother does," Bell is quoted in the report as saying. "I hope she can one day find it in her heart to forgive me."
Brandon’s relatives didn’t attend the sentencing circle. An elder indicated that Brandon’s mother was ill.
The killing left Bell’s three children without a father. The children have stayed with relatives as she has been in custody since.
Combs said that Bell — who had no prior record — has one the most "disturbing" backgrounds he has ever read about in a pre-sentence report.
Her mother had attended residential school, and was an alcoholic. Her biological father wasn’t part of her life.
As a child she was sexually assaulted by a variety of men so many times that she lost count — by family and by visitors to the home.
One of her siblings noted strangers would come into the family home and the children’s bedroom. They would be exposed to or witness emotional, physical, sexual and substance abuse.
Bell told authorities that she remembers waking in the night to men forcing themselves on her. She would be given "substances" to make her more compliant. She would be bitten, burned, punched and kicked.
She was relieved to be taken into foster care at eight years
old where she remained until she was returned to her mother at 12.
Her half brother, Eric Bell, said his sister was only six years old when she was forced to care for her younger siblings. Their parents were constantly intoxicated and would leave them alone for long periods.
Bell would protect her siblings but take the brunt of abuse herself. While still a child herself, she would shoplift to provide her siblings with food and clothes.
She continued to serve as mother to her siblings once returned to her mother’s care.
Bell turned to alcohol and drugs to numb her pain from the abuse. Substances were easy to get — by eight years old people began giving her alcohol and drugs.
Eric Bell told Combs that there was no excuse for what his sister did, but she had been locked up away from her children long enough.
"I don’t believe the place to deal with her is in jail … for a person to heal they need to be around family," he said.
Shalla Bell’s aunt, who asked not to be named, lamented the effects drug and alcohol have had on her aboriginal community.
"I hate alcohol because that’s what brings us all down — alcohol, drugs. We know, but why do we not stop? Why?"
She said that, because she doesn’t allow smoking, drugs or alcohol in her home, her family doesn’t visit her.
"Why didn’t you come and talk to me? I could have helped you," she told Bell.
Tanner invited youth to take part in sharing circles, so they can help change their community’s way of living.