Percy Simon’s widow says that ‘healing starts today’
Third accused to face fall ruling
GORE BAY––Two of three defendants on trial for the May 2015 murder of Wiikwemkoong’s Percy Simon Jr. have been sentenced following a three-and-a-half week trial. Robert Travis Wemigwans of Wiikwemkoong pleaded not guilty to first degree murder but guilty to manslaughter. He was sentenced to 7.5 years less 4.5 years credit for time served. Tammy Lou Elaine Trudeau, also of Wiikwemkoong, pleaded not guilty to manslaughter but guilty to assault causing bodily harm. Ms. Trudeau was sentenced to nine months imprisonment less three months credit for time served, followed by two years probation.
Byron Joseph Kagige of Hamilton will be sentenced on September 28, 2018 at Gore Bay. Mr. Kagige pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.
Defence lawyers and the Crown Attorney’s office made a joint submission to the court to accept the lesser pleas and suggesting appropriate sentences after extensive evidence was presented during the trial.
“A criminal trial holds little place for sentiment,” stated Judge Alexander D. Kurke. “The court must focus on criminal liability and the defendant’s criminal conduct. Accordingly, this is little comfort to the family of the victim.” He explained that through sentencing there is some scope for families to receive comfort through the filing and reading of victim impact statements.
Victim impact statements from Mr. Simon’s mother and sister were read into the record, and Joanie (Leedham) Peltier, Mr. Simon’s widow, read her prepared statement with their oldest son by her side.
Sarah Mishibinijima, Mr. Simon’s sister, wrote, “On May 17, 2015 our world was turned upside down. This has taken a toll on our family. We have experienced emotional turmoil and major depression. On that dreadful day in May 2015 a couple of women came to our house to see if we’d heard anything about my brother. Their eyes were swollen from crying. They told me brother was stabbed to death. I ran inside and called the priest. I talked to the priest and he confirmed someone had been killed and his last name was Simon. I gave my mom the phone and went outside and screamed. We went down to the house where it happened. My mom wanted to hold my brother in her arms. The female officer that was there wouldn’t let us see him. She said we wouldn’t want to see. I never had a chance to say good-bye.”
Mr. Simon’s mother, Nancy Simon, wiped tears from her eyes as her statement was read. “This tragedy has been a nightmare to our family,” the court heard. “My son had a career. He was a heavy equipment operator. Losing Percy has affected all of our health. We have all suffered severe depression and anxiety. We have mostly confined ourselves to our house. My first son tragically left us. My husband and I asked the Creator for another son. We always said Percy was a godsend. We were a well-known family that supplied wood. We did that for 20 years. Percy came home in the fall to help his father with the wood. After he died Percy Sr. couldn’t keep doing it on his own. It’s been a financial struggle. He used to help with other chores at the house.
“When he was a little boy, six or seven, he climbed a big maple. His father looked for him and couldn’t see him. He heard a whistle and looked up. There was Percy Jr. sitting in the tree. His father still hears that whistle.
“He gave us four beautiful grandchildren. This has made me mad and hateful. That’s not how I am.
“He liked baseball and hockey, hunting and fishing. He was a wonderful son.”
Ms. Peltier began by saying, “I am the mother of Percy Simon’s children.” She paused to fight back tears. “On May 17, 2015 our lives changed forever,” she continued. “My children’s father left for a party and ended up dead in a ditch. My children ask me why he was taken from us. These are questions I can’t answer. It’s a scary world when you can’t even trust your friends.
“Percy will never get to know his grandchildren. My daughter will never know her father. Jaden graduates from high school this year. Percy will miss that milestone.
“He worked in the bush from dawn until dusk. He had the energy to never quit. The boys helped him. He was proud of driving the rock truck for Day Construction.
“He loved hockey and baseball. Percy took our oldest son to a Blue Jays game five years ago. He taught our boys how to fish. He enjoyed taking our children to Canada’s Wonderland.”
Ms. Peltier paused again. “They looked up to him. He had a huge impact on his boys. We have to suffer the consequences with a life sentence. Not one but three people took his life, and they gave my children a life sentence. Nobody forced anyone to drink or take Percy’s life. Percy had to pay the consequences with his life. He had no chance to prepare his family financially. All my children have are memories.”
Michael Lacy, lawyer for Mr. Wemigwans, spoke on behalf of his client. “Your Honour, as you know, sentencing is one of the most difficult things in the justice system. Obviously when you hear the victim impact statements, they’re very poignant. We can’t forget that we’re here because someone lost their life. My client recognizes this as well. It was a sad and tragic day for the family and also for the community. “
“We have a role to play,” Mr. Lacy continued. “The role of the court is to determine a fair and just sentence taking into consideration facts and legal considerations. It’s not easy for friends and family of Percy Simon to understand. One thing that’s important for me as we go through legal considerations is my client’s background. I don’t want to take away from their loss.
“My client pled guilty to manslaughter on Monday. He is genuinely remorseful. Percy was in fact a friend of Travis Wemigwans. The connection between their families goes back far before their friendship. They were some of the first families in the Wikwemikong community.
“I believe that manslaughter is an appropriate way to resolve this case. We’ve established beyond doubt that Travis Wemigwans did not intend to kill Percy Simon that morning. The court must now determine a sentence based on the circumstances of the offence and of society’s interest.
“We’ve had a unique opportunity over the past 3.5 weeks to hear the evidence and can reflect on the legal issues. The parties are jointly submitting that an appropriate sentence is 7 years prison less credit for time already served. We’re asking for 4.5 years credit so 2.5 years (30 months) would be the remnant.
“There was significant intoxication and impairment as shown in evidence from the hospital and toxicology findings, from police officers and expert witnesses. Both Travis Wemigwans and Percy Simon were significantly impaired and this undoubtedly affected their executive function which is the ability to perceive and react. The nature of the evidence was so significant where the evidence was clear that Travis Wemigwans was not in a state to have the necessary intent to commit murder.
“There were elements of self-defence together with provocation. My client accepts responsibility for not acting in lawful self-defence. My client had, in fact, been assaulted with a beer bottle prior to the assault with a knife. It caused a laceration to his face and knocked him out. He came to to see Percy and Byron struggling.
“The third factor that is relevant is the nature and location of the injury. The pathologist referred in his evidence to the rarity of death ensuing from an extremity as it did in this particular case. This supports the plea of manslaughter and the sentence in the range being proposed today.”
Mr. Wemigwans’ criminal record dates back to 2002. He was in an out of facilities throughout his youth and has struggled with addiction issues. There is a gap in his criminal record from 2011 to the date of the offence in May 2015. Mr. Wemigwans had secured employment and was on his way to turning his life around. “He is not beyond rehabilitation and being a positive role model. He has three children of his own, with one being raised by his father and stepmother,” Mr. Lacy told the court. “There are two ways that people faced with this situation can go. They can become angry and go down a bad path or they can accept the consequences and make efforts to rehabilitate.”
“Being charged with first degree murder has been hard for Travis to deal with. He was accused of killing his friend. He’s been called a murderer in the press, in the community, where he had his family.
“He knew he didn’t set out to take his friend’s life and has accepted responsibility for the alcohol and violence that led to his friend’s death. I’m hopeful that with this sentence the community will have a better understanding of how Percy Simon came to meet his death. Also that he can serve his sentence and reintegrate into his community. He has the continued unwavering support of his father, stepmother and stepfamily.”
Mr. Lacy continued, “The task for the judge is daunting. He has to balance the facts with the circumstances. My submission is that the proposed sentence is responsible.
He is affected by the long standing history of discrimination and the impact that discrimination has had. It’s not such a crushing sentence that after accepting responsibility and serving his sentence he can’t return to his community.”
Ms. Trudeau had made herself respected, said lawyer Robert Beckett. She had completed studies at Mohawk College in Hamilton and had been steadily employed until she was charged with the offence of first degree murder. Since that time, he explained, she has gone back to her religious roots. “She has strong convictions and had permission to attend religious services added to her bail order. In religion she has found guidance and strength. She has not consumed alcohol since the offence.”
“On the night in question she wasn’t looking to cause harm but to laugh, to drink, to party. She readily acknowledged that it got a bit out of hand. She should have walked away. She did not cause Percy’s death but played a role in all the circumstances leading to it. The soul searching she has done since has been a profound experience. She is now guided by her beliefs. She has been on bail for three years without incident and she was under strict house arrest.”
“Ultimately,” Mr. Beckett explained, “she has to make plans for her future. She may have to find her way to another community and start a new life away from there. No prior criminal record and no tendency to violence. She does not appear to become a fixture in the criminal justice system.”
Crown Attorney David Kirk acknowledge that “sentencing is a very difficult thing for a judge. It’s also difficult for those found guilty, for the families and the community. The murder left behind Percy’s four children. He will not have the ability to mark the milestones of their lives. He also left behind his mother, Nancy Simon, his father, Percy Senior, and his sister, Sarah Mishibinijima. All because of an angry, alcohol fueled frenzy.
“The joint submission on sentencing was reached after hearing the evidence, which helped focus on the issues and culpability. I understand this feels unjust to his family but we must be guided by legal principles. We heard about the levels of intoxication by police officers and EMS. We also have knowledge of the actions of Mr. Wemigwans with regards to Mr. Kagige and Ms. Trudeau and their participation.”
The evidence was enough to raise reasonable doubt, explained Mr. Kirk.
“When applying legal principles with regards to sentencing, the resolution is just,” he said. “It does not take away the loss and pain of Percy Simon Jr.’s family.”
The defendants were then provided the opportunity to speak. Mr. Wemigwans, visibly distraught and holding an eagle feather said, “I always pray for Percy’s family, for his children. I didn’t want this to happen. I didn’t expect this to happen. But there’s nothing I can do about it now. I’m sorry. I wish I’d never drank.”
Ms. Trudeau also apologized, “to the court and everybody, my family, my community, jurors, staff, everybody,” she said. “There are no words I can say to Percy Simon’s family or his children that would give them comfort,” she said. “God is looking upon his children, especially that little boy (she points to Percy Simon Jr.’s youngest son). God will be their comfort. I have no words. I can’t take it back. I pray for them.”
“People justifiably hope they will not be remembered for their conduct on their worst day,” said Judge Kurke. “The court must apply a cold lens to the proceedings. It is evident that Travis Wemigwans did kill Percy Simon on May 17, 2015. Byron Kagige and Tammy Trudeau both had a part to play.” Court was told that tremendous amounts of alcohol and other substances were consumed, “more intoxicating substances than anyone should be able to consume,” continued Judge Kurke. “All three must have experienced some deficits in judgement.”
Following sentencing, Judge Kurke spoke to Mr. Wemigwans. “I wish you good luck as you go forward and you become someone your community will welcome back.”
To the courtroom he agreed that it was “late in the day for purposes of guilty plea but it was only after testing some of the evidence that we were able to come to some agreement. The sentence was just and appropriate in the circumstances. We had to test and address the evidence. “
Ms. Simon turned around as court was dismissed. “We lost,” she said. “They go on living. My son is six feet under.”
Standing outside the courthouse with her grandchildren she continued, “My heart has been broken. It’s still broken. I’ve got to learn to forgive them in time. But not at this moment. I feel for my grandchildren, losing their father in this way. I tried counselling, it didn’t help. My husband and my daughter, we talk about my son. He went back to school. He drove the big trucks. That was the summer. In the winter he and his father cut wood. Lots of wood. I miss him. I know he’s here spiritually. I’ve had two strokes since he’s gone. That’s how bad he hurt me. I’ve got diabetes. My sugar’s gone crazy. I can’t get it down. He’ll always be in my heart.”
The initial reaction from Ms. Peltier was similar. “I don’t think it’s fair that they get so little time. Our kids have to suffer for the rest of our lives. His parents have to suffer,” she said. “They got a slap on the wrist and will get on with their lives. Emma was only two-weeks-old. I just feel like if anybody is grabbing a weapon there’s some kind of intent there. Death is so final. I still truly believe when you’re under the influence, when you grab a weapon, you know. How are we teaching society and kids these days? It was three against one. There are barely any repercussions. They spoke about consequences but they’re not what they should have been.”
Two days later, after some painful soul searching, Ms. Peltier reached out to The Expositor with this statement: “In the beginning my children and I had a lot of anger and resentment against the defendants for causing the loss of Percy but we feel a weight has lifted now that it’s over and they got what the law felt was appropriate. Now we can just move forward. Hearing two of the defendants speak with heartfelt tears and emotions of what they have done, I came to realize they really didn’t intend for any of this to happen. It just happened. Now I can help my children understand. I want to teach my kids to not live in anger and hate. I want us to forgive and move on to the next chapter in our lives. No one can change what happened that night so it’s best that we just look forward and not have any resentment against them. It’s best that I continue to help my children grow and teach them to keep moving forward no matter what. It’s okay to be angry and sad but there comes a time we need to heal from this tragedy and it starts today.”