Appeal an option after Flin Flon man sentenced to five years in sword homicide

A Flin Flon man sentenced to five years in prison for taking a perceived intruder’s life with a sword has until early April to decide whether to appeal.

Mitchell Whitbread, 28, had previously been found guilty of manslaughter in the May 12, 2012 death of John (Kelli) Eyres, 31, also of Flin Flon.

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His sentence – more lenient than what the Crown prosecutor sought – came down Monday, capping off tense proceedings that saw the prosecution and defence wrangle over Whitbread’s claim of self-defence.

Whitbread has 30 days from the date of sentencing to appeal the conviction, the sentence or both. Defence lawyer Greg Brodsky said he has advised his client to wait about two weeks before deciding whether to appeal.

“I told him it’s too emotional a day to decide today,” Brodsky said in a phone interview with The Reminder Tuesday morning.

If Whitbread were to successfully appeal, Brodsky said, a new trial would take place with no guarantee of a different outcome. He said the Crown also reserves the right to appeal.

Prosecutor Brian Wilford had sought a conviction on the more serious charge of second-degree murder, which denotes intent to kill. Whitbread pleaded not guilty and was found guilty of manslaughter, which denotes no intent to kill, last November following a jury trial at the Court of Queen’s Bench in The Pas.

Wilford also sought a lengthier prison sentence of six to eight years, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. Brodsky wanted a non-custodial sentence. A manslaughter verdict carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Amanda Dubinak, Eyres’ sister, told The Reminder that a five-year sentence was not what the family was hoping for.

The Free Press laid out details of the case and sentencing, which was also held in The Pas, in an article that went online Monday afternoon.

According to the newspaper, court heard that Eyres was intoxicated and apparently looking for a place to warm up when he began banging on the door of Whitbread’s Hill Street home and trying to use his shoulder to open it.

The defence argued that Whitbread thought he was under attack while home alone late at night. His decision to grab a collectable samurai sword and step outside was described as an attempt to scare off Eyres, whom he did not know.

Whitbread claimed that Eyres lunged at him, leading to the injury from which Eyres later died in hospital, but Whitbread’s decision to grab the sword was called into question.

“Why didn’t he call the police? Why didn’t he call 911? That’s what normal people do,” Eyres’ family said in victim impact statements read aloud at the sentencing and quoted by the Free Press. “Losing our son is a nightmare. Nothing will ever be the same for us. There is a void that will never be filled.”

Wilford accused Whitbread of “administering justice as he saw fit,” according to the Free Press, and called Eyres “a good, solid family man.”

Eyres was working at Northlands College in Creighton at the time of his death. He and Whitbread were not known to each other.

If there is no appeal from either side, Whitbread will serve his sentence at an undisclosed federal prison.

In addition to jail time, he received a lifetime prohibition on owning weapons and was ordered to provide a DNA sample.

Brodsky, one of Canada’s best-known homicide defence lawyers, previously told The Reminder that his client had no prior criminal record.

According to the Free Press, Whitbread apologized to the Eyres family at the sentencing.

“I know they may never forgive,” he was quoted as saying. “I know they say time heals all wounds.”

The Reminder contacted Wilford for comment for this article but received no response.

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