The judgment Tuesday on a deadly fist fight opened a floodgate of emotion that poured over Strathmore’s only courtroom.
One boy walked from the courtroom, free to grow up, enjoy his friends, have a family and live his life — albeit one that is inexorably changed.
Another boy is dead, and as his father charged out of the courtroom after a not guilty verdict was read, he revealed the pain his family has suffered.
The accused, a 17-year-old Chestermere boy, was on trial for manslaughter after a single punch to the victims head, delivered during a pre-arranged fight May 25, 2001, left the 16-year-old dead.
“It goes without saying that there never should have been a fight in the first place, but that’s not the reality of the situation,” Judge Gordon Clozza said before reading his six-page judgment — an article he said he normally reserves for lawyers but which he read in a bid to send a message to the teenagers crammed into the courtroom.
In that statement, Clozza said his decision hinged on whether or not the accused intended to cause serious bodily harm.
“Both youths were old enough to understand and appreciate the consequences of their decision. Both youths were physically strong enough to cause serious bodily harm to the other,” Clozza said.
“I find the accused did not have the necessary intent to cause bodily harm to the deceased so as to preclude the defence of consent. I therefore find the accused not guilty of manslaughter.”
It was at that point that cries of relief filled the courtroom, members of the accused’s family bursting into hot, welcome tears.
Tears could also be seen in the eyes of the accused as he stood up from his lawyer’s table, shook his hand and hugged him. He then walked to his family and friends across the courtroom where he was enveloped by loving arms.
Defence lawyer Patrick Fagan said even though a not guilty verdict was handed down, his client did not get off scot-free.
“This time last year, the young man was facing a charge of second-degree murder. He now walks out of this courtroom a young man without a single criminal conviction,” Fagan said.
But when asked what the trial has done to his client, Fagan responded: “What hasn’t been done to my client? I mean, he’s been through hell, the family’s been through hell this past year. It will profoundly affect and shape the rest of his life.”
Outside the courthouse, the accused and his mother walked to their vehicle and watched as his father, a quiet, kind-looking man dressed conservatively in a dark blue pinstripe suit and red tie, addressed a crush of media.
“We’ve got through it and we’re going to go ahead (with our lives). We’re really . . . I really don’t know how to feel,” he said as he choked back tears.
“It’s just been a lot, a lot of worry. He’s a good kid, just an ordinary guy.”
The trial’s legacy will also live beyond the judgment, as the question of what message the verdict sends is debated.
Bumper stickers plastered to cars parked across the street from the courthouse send one clear message. In stark blue and white they read: No more peer pressure! It’s hurting our kids. In loving memory of The Vicitm, Oct. 24, 1984 to May 25, 2001.
Many of the players in the case — both lawyers, friends of the accused — think another message has also been delivered.
the victims father and mother, who remained solemn and undemonstrative throughout the trial, weren’t publicly sharing their thoughts on what they think of the verdict.
“Boys have fought forever and they will continue to fight, but perhaps this will make a difference,” said Fagan. “Perhaps it will cause them to reflect and think before they throw the first blow.”
Crown prosecutor Danny Elliott echoed his colleague’s sentiments.
“From everyone’s point of view, it certainly was very stressful and . . . we certainly seemed to have sent a good message out to everyone, both young and old, that it’s not the Canadian way to get into fights,” Elliott said.
“(The accused) didn’t get off, I wouldn’t think. We’ve had a long, drawn-out trial here and I certainly got the impression that everyone, including (the accused), learned a good lesson from this.”
The day of the deadly fight, an estimated 75 onlookers went to Chestermere’s John Peake park, a popular spot for after-school melees. Since then, not one fight has been staged there, Elliott said.
But as the small lakeside community of Chestermere continues to deal with the end result of the fight, a family friend of the accused said both families will forever be affected by the teens’ fateful decision to prove themselves.
“There’s something to be learned here. It’s a tragedy for both families,” Judy Nyberg said. “I hope that everyone involved, all the kids, everybody at every school everywhere, takes heart in this and that there really is an end to the violence in schools.”
The Crown has 30 days to file an appeal.