Accused pleads guilty at outset of triple murder trial

By Patrick Burles - @PatrickBurles on Twitter
January 8, 2018 - 12:22pm Updated: January 8, 2018 - 4:47pm

LETHBRIDGE – A four-week triple homicide trial that was set to begin Monday, Jan. 8, has been avoided, as the 24-year-old accused entered guilty pleas to three counts of second degree murder.

Austin Lane Vielle admitted to the murders of Clarissa Michelle English, Dakota Julius English and Kyle Osborn Devine on Apr. 27, 2015.

Following the pleas and the presentation of victim impact statements (more on that below), the case proceeded directly to sentencing, with the Crown and defence offering a joint submission to the court. They are suggesting life imprisonment with concurrent parole ineligibilities of 20-years for each count.

During the sentencing hearing, Crown prosecutor Vaughan Hartigan referred to the aggravating factors of the case, specifically pointing to the 244 stab and cut wounds inflicted on the victims, calling it “a frenzy of violence.” While he credited Vielle for entering a guilty plea, he noted some concern that there’s still no explanation for the brutal attack, as Vielle says he has no memory of it due to intoxication.

Defence lawyer Tonii Roulston, explained that her client comes from a family with a history of abuse, leading back to his grandmother who was a residential school survivor. She said he also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of some family members. She acknowledged that it was troubling that Vielle used 14 knives to kill his victims – presumably meaning he would get a new one after breaking a blade – but said he has shown real remorse, adding that they were his friends.

While Vielle declined a chance to speak in court, with Roulston saying he didn’t think he could handle it, she read a statement Vielle had made to her earlier in the day.

“I’m sorry this happened. I don’t remember what happened… they were my friends,” read Roulston. “I hope in the future there can be some sort of reconciliation, but I know this will be difficult.” She continued by saying he understands that the victim’s families are still angry and need more time to heal.

After hearing those submissions, Justice Rodney Jerke said that the case was too significant for him to rush his decision, opting to take a day to consider it. He then adjourned sentencing until Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 9.

Facts of the case

As part of an agreed statement of facts provided to the court by the Crown and defence, it was revealed Vielle had been friends with all three victims, and had been observed with Dakota in the early morning hours of Apr. 27.

Shortly before 1 a.m., a taxi cab picked Vielle and Dakota up at a residence – where Dakota lived with his sister, Clarissa, and her boyfriend, Kyle – along McGill Boulevard West. The driver took them to several locations around Lethbridge to purchase alcohol and withdraw cash from ATMs.

At 2:05 that same morning, Lethbridge Police officers responded to a panic alarm at the Macs store in Columbia Boulevard West. The employee triggered the alarm because two males had become agitated when he wouldn’t sell them cigarettes because they didn’t have identification. Both individuals fled the scene before officers arrived, however, they were later identified as Vielle and Dakota, via the store’s video surveillance system.

From that point it’s not entirely clear what happened, but after returning to Dakota’s home, Vielle attacked the three victims, stabbing them repeatedly. Dakota sustained 57 stab or cut wounds to his neck, face, head and upper extremities and abdomen. Kyle suffered 84 stab and cut wounds to his neck, face, chest and upper extremities and abdomen. Clarissa was stabbed or cut 103 times with injuries to her face, neck, abdomen, extremities and pelvis.

Autopsies performed on the three victims determined that they had high blood alcohol levels.

Vielle said he was intoxicated at the time and has no recollection of what happened.

The victim’s bodies were discovered by a neighbour the next day, Apr. 28, and following an investigation, police identified Vielle as a person of interest. He voluntarily attended the police station on Apr. 29 for an interview.

Police noted what appeared to be blood on Vielle’s shoes after he turned them over – along with a DNA sample – and he was arrested for murder.

A search of Vielle’s home resulted in police finding blood staining in his room and basement, as well as blood stained clothing, along with two knife handles in the pockets of the sweat pants found in his home. The blood was later matched to the victims.

Vielle’s DNA was also located at the crime scene on a pair of knives and on a meat cleaver that also had Clarissa’s blood on it.

Victim impact statements

After the guilty pleas and facts were delivered to the court, a number of the victim’s family members provided their victim impact statements.

Chantelle English, the older sister of Dakota and Clarissa, worked to maintain her composure as she spoke of her lost siblings and how it has impacted her.

“How am I supposed to live without her?” Chantelle asked, speaking of Clarissa. How am I going to explain to my niece and nephew what happened to their mom.

“Everything seemed like a f***ing nightmare,” she continued of the aftermath, explaining that she has had to hold her mother as she sobs, having lost two of her children.

“Things will never be the same.”

Wendy English, the grandmother of Dakota and Clarissa, also spoke, telling the court that when she heard what happened, she initially refused to believe it.

“I wanted proof, because I just didn’t want to believe it was them [who had been murdered],” she said, adding that after seeing photos, she can’t shake the image from her head.

“It’s like a wicked nightmare,” Wendy explained. “The pain is excruciating.”

She concluded her statement with the words, “We all want justice.”

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