A judge has decided that time served and probation is the appropriate sentence in the case of one of the people charged in connection to a brutal January assault on a Yarmouth teenager.
In Yarmouth provincial court on Sept. 16, the Crown had been seeking a jail sentence of 18 months for Trey Rhyno, 20, who had pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm and unlawful confinement. The defence was seeking time served. Since being arrested in January, the majority of Rhyno’s time has been spent in custody on remand.
At the conclusion of a lenghty sentencing hearing, Judge Claudine MacDonald determined it wouldn’t be fair to sentence Rhyno to a much harsher sentence than what two others in this case have already received.
On Jan. 4 a Yarmouth teenager, then 17, was picked up by a friend. She didn’t know before getting into the vehicle that three others were inside. Over the next several hours the teenager was assaulted, threatened, tortured and confined.
Ashley Comeau, the driver of the vehicle, and who pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy, was given an 18-month community-based conditional sentence. Jacqueline Elizabeth Angell – Rhyno’s grandmother – received a 12-month conditional sentence after pleading guilty to assault with a weapon. Both of these sentences were a joint recommendation agreed to by the Crown and defence.
In the Rhyno case the Crown was seeking jail time. And because the Crown was proceeding by indictment in the Rhyno case – which was different from the two other sentencing hearings – a conditional sentence was not an option for the judge to consider. And because offenders are credited time-and-a-half for their time on remand, the court was told Rhyno had spent the equivalent of 341 days in custody prior to sentencing.
“Sentencing is difficult, because, as I mentioned many, many times, how troubling it is to think that a young person was attacked in the way that she was and is suffering the way that she is, because of what you and others chose to do,” the judge told Rhyno. “I’ve given this matter considerable thought, and what I keep coming back to is I look at what happened to two of the other individuals, in particular Ms. Angell and the role that she played, and can I distinguish the role that you played and the role that she played and thereby, somehow, justify a substantially, harsher penalty for you than what she received? The answer to that is no.”
Angell’s participation in the assault began the teenager was brought to Angell's residence by the others. Rhyno had been in the vehicle from the time the teenager had been picked up. In comparing Rhyno’s and Angell’s involvement, the judge felt they were similar.
“If we don’t have similar sentences for similar offences in similar circumstances, where is the fairness in the process?” the judge said. “Why did this person get 18 months in jail when this other person got a community-based sentence with house arrest for six months? Where is the fairness in that?”
As it was becoming apparent the direction the judge was heading in with her sentence, the aunt of the teenage victim became visibly emotional in the courtroom, struggling to hold back tears. When the judge declared time served, the aunt and the girl’s grandmother stormed out of the courtroom – both angry and in tears – calling the justice system a joke. The family feels the court system has not treated the matter seriously enough since no one has received a jail sentence for the attack.
In their victim impact statements, the girl’s family said because of the teenager's injuries and how swollen the teenager’s face was, she was unrecognizable at the hospital.
The judge highlighted many aspects of the victim impact statements, both from the victim and family members during the sentencing hearing, noting the victim had described her life as being catastrophically changed that night. The judge said she can only imagine the fear the girl went through that night, not to mention the psychological impact beyond the physical injuries. The court was told the teenager and Rhyno had only known each other for about a month and that she considered Rhyno a friend.
There was no explanation offered in court for the motive behind the attack.
The judge called Rhyno a youthful adult offender who had had a troubled childhood, and also had a problem with alcohol consumption. But she said alcohol and the people Rhyno associated with that night cannot be excuses for what happened, as everyone is responsible for the choices they make.
The judge also noted in the pre-sentence report a former employer of Rhyno's had described Rhyno as a “quality person and worker,” and as someone who was dedicated to their job, was reliable and treated all coworkers and patrons with respect. Judge MacDonald said it was difficult to understand how someone who had received such an endorsement could also be involved in something so incomprehensible against another human being.
The judge did say the Crown’s sought-after 18-month jail sentence was within the range in a case like this, but not when two other co-accused hadn’t received the same types of sentences. She said parity of sentencing had to be a critical factor. Crown attorney Marc Njoh had indicated it was going to be his intention to seek similar jail sentences for the two other co-accused whose cases are still before the court if they are convicted, but the judge said she could only consider sentences that have already occurred.
Rhyno was also given an 18-month probationary period with several conditions. It is being recommended by the court that Rhyno spend time at the Elizabeth Fry Society's Holly House in Dartmouth, which works with women and transgender individuals. The court was told this was already the plan as Rhyno had been doing programming with the society while in custody.
In an earlier court appearance in which part of the sentencing hearing had taken place Rhyno apologized to the court for what had happened, acknowleding that saying "I'm sorry" doesn't change what took place.