The family of a Yarmouth teenager who was viciously assaulted earlier this year say they will never be able to erase the image of seeing the girl’s swollen and beaten body at the hospital.
With great emotion the girl’s aunt and grandmother read victim impact statements in provincial court in Yarmouth on Sept. 3 as part of a sentencing hearing for one of the people accused of assaulting the teenager.
The victim’s identity is protected by a court publication ban.
Trey Rhyno, 20, has entered guilty pleas to charges of assault causing bodily harm and unlawful confinement.
Judge Claudine MacDonald will deliver her sentence on Sept. 16, saying she required more time to review submissions from the Crown and defence.
The Crown said it is seeking a custodial sentence of 18 months (minus time served on remand), to be followed by probation. The defence said it is seeking time served as a sentence, feeling this is appropriate in the case.
People on remand in provincial institutions are credited for time and a half served while in remand. In this case, that credit would account for roughly 320 days since Rhyno was first arrested in January and was released in April but was re-arrested on a breach and placed back in custody in May.
The assault on the girl occurred on Jan. 4. The teenage girl was picked up in a vehicle by another teenager. She didn’t know there were others in the vehicle before getting inside. The Crown told the court that over the course of approximately five hours she was beaten, tortured and held against her will. She was eventually able to escape.
Members of the girl’s family tearfully read victim impact statements outlining the horror they, and the teenage girl, have suffered. The victim was not in court. Her statement was read by her aunt. It described her life as having been changed “catastrophically,” saying the attack left her paralyzed with fear, and has since caused her to be detached, sad, angry, untrusting of others and suffering from anxiety attacks. She has needed counselling and medication to help her cope. She says she has blocked people from social media but still gets harassed when she is out in public.
“I am terrorized by flashbacks and nightmares,” her statement said. “I don’t understand why they did this me. I don’t understand how people can do those sorts of things to other people.”
In her statement she said on the night of the incident she was told to take off her clothing but begged to be able to keep her clothes on.
“I was scared I was going to be left alone to freeze to death,” she wrote. “I can still hear their voices laughing at me . . . their faces haunt me in my nightmares.”
The girl’s aunt said the attack was horrifying for their family. The phone call telling her what had happened she’ll never forget, the aunt said. And no one, she said, could prepare themselves for seeing a loved one in the way she had to see her niece.
“I saw somebody that was almost unrecognizable screaming out in pain and in fear for their life,” the aunt said. “I saw my niece laying on that stretcher, her lips and face so swollen you couldn’t even see her teeth. Her hands bloody from her fingernails being ripped off. Her hair bloody and her head swollen from the hours of repeated blows to the head, and blood all over what was left of her clothes. Her legs were bruised, welted and swollen as well.”
The effects have been lingering.
“I can still hear her screaming and crying, and sometimes wake up in the middle of the night from that very nightmare.”
Photographs of the girl’s injuries were entered as evidence by the Crown.
While the physical injuries have healed, the aunt said the emotional damage can never be undone.
The girl’s grandmother said they’ve all been changed by what happened. The grandmother described herself as someone who had always been outgoing and happy. She said now she is an angry, depressed person, who doesn’t experience the joy of life as she once did.
“When I arrived at the hospital, I didn’t recognize my granddaughter,” she said. “I’ll never get that picture of her swollen face out of my mind. I couldn’t even tell if she had lips…I will forever be haunted.”
She said the girl’s gel fingernails were ripped from her fingers, taking some of her real fingernails with them.
The Crown acknowledged to the court that it was difficult for the teenager – who was 17 at the time of the attack – to know at times who was hitting, or how many times each person struck her. He likened the incident to a gang assault. The girl believes she lost consciousness several times.
There was a pre-sentence report prepared and a Gladue report. A Gladue report provides an analysis of background cultural factors that many Aboriginals face, and asks the court to take these factors into consideration when sentencing an offender.
The Crown referred to both reports as being “positive” but said denunciation is important as a message needs to be sent to the public that this type of behaviour is not acceptable.
The Crown also said rehabilitation of the accused is a factor that needs to be considered.
Rhyno was given the opportunity to address the court.
“I’d like to say I do accept responsibility,” Rhyno said. “If I could take it back I would.”
The judge said Rhyno could have stopped what was happening that night, but didn’t.
“That’s what’s so troubling,” the judge said, telling Rhyno, “Imagine what it would have been like if you had…a group of people attack you the way that she was attacked.”