POLITICS

Sentencing hearing into death of Manitoba teen's father hears girl lost her way

10/15/2014 03:21 EDT | Updated 12/15/2014 05:59 EST
WINNIPEG - Tina Fontaine — the Manitoba teenager whose death has prompted renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women — went into a downward spiral after her father was beaten to death, a Winnipeg courtroom was told Wednesday.

Fontaine "started drifting away" from her family on the Sagkeeng First Nation and "was not able to cope at all," according to victim impact statements filed by relatives in the trial of two men who have pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the October 2011 death of Eugene Fontaine.

Outside court, members of the Fontaine family wept as they described Tina as a young girl who went astray before disappearing into the streets of Winnipeg.

"She was very hurt, very lost. That's when she drifted away," said Brenda Fontaine, one of Tina's aunts.

"We saw the change in Tina. She tried to move on and tried to get the relationship with her mother here in Winnipeg ... and she only lasted two months in Winnipeg."

Tina, who was raised by a great-aunt for much of her life, was in family services care by last spring. She disappeared one night in August. Her body was pulled from the Red River a week later wrapped in plastic. Police have not made any arrests.

Wednesday's court hearing heard evidence of troubled lives on the Sagkeeng reserve — not only of the Fontaine family, but also of the two men who have admitted to the vicious, hours-long beating that left Eugene Fontaine dead.

Tina's mother had long ago left the family and gone to Winnipeg. Eugene Fontaine, 41, had cancer and had been given only four months to live. He was on a three-day alcohol and drug binge with two friends, Nicholas Abraham and Jonathan Starr, when a dispute over money erupted.

He was beaten repeatedly over several hours, dragged outside to a shed, tied up and left without a shirt on a cold autumn night.

Crown attorney Mike Himmelman called the killing "a gratuitous act of senseless violence" and asked Court of Queen's Bench Justice Brenda Keyser for a 10-year sentence, minus 4 1/2 years credit for the three years the men have already spent in custody.

Defence lawyers have asked for sentences close to time-served. Keyser reserved her decision until December.

Both Abraham and Starr have criminal records and come from very troubled backgrounds not uncommon on reserves, their lawyers said.

Abraham's lawyer told court that his client was raised by alcoholics and witnessed violence and abuse from a young age. Abraham, now 24, saw both his parents incarcerated when he was five and spent much of his time in family services care.

Starr's lawyer told the court that her client endured horrific physical and sexual abuse in the foster care system, suffers from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old.

Both men apologized in court Wednesday and turned to face the Fontaine family, many of whom were weeping.

"I know you guys hate me right now. I wish I could do something," Abraham said, sobbing.

"I really wish it could have been me ... instead of (Eugene Fontaine)."

Starr said he "can never imagine the pain and the suffering I have caused ... but from the depths of my heart, I am truly sorry."

Outside court, the victim's sister — another of Tina's aunts — said she cannot forgive the two men.

"I don't want to know them. I don't forgive them. They took away my brother and they can't give us (him) back," Lana Fontaine said through tears.