» EDITOR’S NOTE: This story contains graphic elements that may be upsetting to some readers.
A mother who admitted to killing her two-year-old son after a night of drinking has been sentenced to eight years in prison.
"It’s difficult to conceive how the act committed by the accused could not be perceived either objectively or subjectively as dangerous. This is not a matter of a child being shaken while being held or transported. The accused threw Draze (the victim) onto the floor such that Draze immediately became unresponsive. After that conduct, the accused struck Draze multiple times in the head area," Justice Scott Abel told the Brandon Court of Queen’s Bench in his decision on Thursday.
"The accused surely would have known the unlawful act subjected the child to the risk of life-threatening injuries, short however of what would be required to establish the intention to kill required for murder."
Jessica Melissa Brandon, 40, pleaded guilty to manslaughter on what was supposed to be the first day of a 10-day trial last September for her involvement in the death of her 28-month-old son, Draze Brandon-Catcheway.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 31, 2015, Dakota Ojibway Police Service — as it was known at the time — responded to Waywayseecappo First Nation after receiving a call for a well-being check on Draze.
The officer who arrived on scene found Brandon standing in the doorway looking shook up and distraught and an unresponsive child laying on the couch.
The child had a pulse, but there were gurgling sounds coming from his throat and his eyes were not responsive to light.
The officer also noticed swollen contusions on the left side of the child’s forehead and right side of his head, as well as bruises on his right temple, elbow and upper thigh.
Draze was taken to hospital in Russell and was ultimately transported by STARS Air Ambulance to the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg, where he never regained consciousness.
An autopsy revealed the child died of an acute blunt force head injury, with hemorrhaging so significant he would have been symptomatic almost immediately.
Brandon initially told police Draze had rolled off the couch while she was changing his diaper, but changed her story multiple times during a lengthy police investigation.
On the first day of her trial, Brandon admitted that she had been drinking that night and passed out for a period of time, waking up to find Draze jumping around and refusing to listen to her.
Brandon grabbed the child and threw him onto the floor. She said she remembered little of what happened but conceded that she struck him multiple times in the head area.
Crown and defence counsel both recommended the court consider a sentence between seven and 10 years, with the Crown arguing a sentence closer to 10 years would be appropriate and defence asking for a sentence on the lower end.
Abel agreed the recommended range was an appropriate one, he said.
Brandon’s actions in proceeding recklessly despite the risk of life-threatening injuries increased her level of moral blameworthiness and culpability, Abel said, adding however that significant Gladue factors and the impact of the involvement — or lack thereof — of Child and Family Services also must be considered.
Before the incident, Child and Family Services had returned Brandon’s children to her care.
Brandon realized she was not ready for all her children to return home at once, she said in her pre-sentence report, and that she was feeling overwhelmed.
Brandon asked the agency for support, she said in the report, but did not receive it.
When asked to provide information regarding Brandon’s involvement with Child and Family Service for the purpose of a pre-sentence report — West Region Child and Family Services declined to participate.
Without the agency’s participation, Abel said, it is difficult to know how much of an impact the agency may have had in Draze’s death.
"While I am prepared to accept that there is a systemic issue that played a role in the death of Draze, that is somewhat tempered by the accused’s own acknowledgement in the days leading up to the death of Draze that she felt overwhelmed," Abel said. "The accused, despite her allegation of a lack of assistance from the agency and despite feeling overwhelmed, continued to care for Draze and took respite in alcohol and drugs."
Brandon’s eight-year sentence began as of the decision on Thursday.
She also appeared in Brandon provincial court to plead guilty to two counts of breaching her bail conditions, and was sentenced to 132 days of time served.
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