A robbery and aggravated assault trial of two Houston people was disrupted last week with a guilty plea by one of the co-accused.
Calvin Dyrland and Erin Ewald were set to be tried together starting March 20, but before the trial began, Ewald pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault charge and a sentencing hearing was scheduled for March 22.
Following the plea, Glenford Greene, Dyrland’s attorney, made applications for severance and a mistrial.
Prior to the hearing Friday, the sheriffs cleared the front row in the courtroom of observers in order to keep the defendants separate from one another.
When the hearing proceeded, Ewald’s lawyer, Michael Murphy, countered the severance and mistrial applications by submitting a decision in the 2012 B.C. Provincial Court case of the Crown v. Anthony Christensen. In that case, a judge ruled the guilty plea of a co-accused did not prejudice the defence, saying the plea was inadmissible as evidence and judges were obligated to and capable of disabusing themselves of the implication.
Greene argued that Christensen didn’t apply because the guilty plea came after the Crown had rested its case, whereas in the case at hand, Ewald had pleaded guilty before the trial began.
The defence was worried the Crown may now call Ewald as a witness arguing his client had a right to know all the evidence the prosecution was going to bring against him.
Prosecutor Declan Brennan said he had not decided whether he would call Ewald, saying it would depend on whether he felt she was a credible witness.
Greene argued that assessment should be made before sentencing proceeded and the defence should be informed.
Brennan said it would be unethical for him to interview Ewald while her sentencing was pending.
Murphy argued that delaying the sentencing would infringe on his client’s Charter right to swift justice.
Following an adjournment to consider the arguments, Judge William Jackson ruled that both Ewald’s sentencing and Dyrland’s trial could proceed.
When the sentencing began, the court heard in a joint submission from the Crown and Ewald’s defence that, on the night of Aug. 6, 2018, the defendants were drinking with the victim, Ronald Pederson, at his home in Silverthorne Mobile Home and RV Park.
An argument ensued and Ewald hit Pederson over the back of the head with an axe handle at least once, Brennan said.
Later, police responded to a disturbance at the Houston Motor Inn where they found a highly intoxicated Ewald along with a pickup truck and some other items belonging to the victim.
During her arrest, Ewald told an RCMP officer that Pederson was in need of assistance, a fact that would later be used as a mitigating factor in her sentencing.
As an aggravating circumstance, the prosecution cited the seriousness of the attack describing four severe lacerations to Pederson’s head and large bruises on his jaw and forearm. Brennan said the victim is still suffering from neurological symptoms related to the beating.
Also aggravating, the Crown said, was Ewald’s criminal record, which includes another similar conviction after the August charges were laid in October 2018.
In her favour, in addition to reporting Pederson’s plight to police, the prosecutor counted the guilty plea as mitigating.
Murphy added the fact Ewald is Métis of Ojibwa extraction bringing Gladue and Ipeelee (Supreme Court statement that consideration of adverse impacts faced by Indigenous people be considered) factors into the equation. The defence also noted she was currently clean and sober and has been attending Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to deal with addiction issues that have contributed to her involvement in the criminal justice system.
The joint submission recommended two years incarceration in the federal system, which will give Ewald greater access to addictions treatment and life skills programs and a better opportunity for rehabilitation than she would find in the provincial correctional system.
The judge accepted the joint submission, passing the custodial sentence along with a lifetime weapons prohibition and mandatory DNA order.
Brennan dropped the robbery charge.
The Crown alleges Dyrland also had a role in the assault and robbery. He was arrested approximately two weeks after Ewald in the Burns Lake area after being spotted by an off-duty police officer. He allegedly fled in a stolen vehicle, which police later stopped using a spike strip.
Dyrland’s trial began immediately after Ewald was sentenced with testimony from Pederson.
The trial is scheduled to continue this week.