A grieving father is disappointed that his former partner and her husband both pled guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter in the 2018 death of six-year-old Dontay-Patrick Lucas. The couple were initially charged with first degree murder, which, by definition, involves planning and deliberation.
“The Crown proceeded in this case on a new indictment charging the accused with manslaughter,” wrote Dan McLaughlin, communications counsel for the BC Prosecution Service, in an email to Ha-Shilth-Sa. “The decision to accept a plea to manslaughter by the two accused in this case was made after a full and careful review of the facts of the offence, the relevant case law and personal circumstances of the offenders.”
Dontay Lucas, 6, died from a head injury on March 13, 2018.
Earlier that morning at about 9:30 a.m. the RCMP responded to a call at a townhouse in south Port Alberni to a report of a child in medical distress. The unresponsive boy was transported to hospital, but sadly, did not survive. Initial reports said that the boy was critically injured from a fall down the stairs.
The death was ruled suspicious, and an investigation was launched by the RCMP and BC Coroner’s Service.
After four years of investigation, on May 7, 2022 the RCMP announced that after “painstaking efforts” were made to collect evidence, arrests had been made in the death of little Dontay Lucas. Dontay’s mother, Rykel Frank, and her now husband Mitchell Frank were charged with first-degree murder.
Both Charleson, 29, and Frank, 30, appeared at a preliminary hearing in Port Alberni Law Courts on June 12, 2023. In Canada, a preliminary inquiry is a judicial hearing that is used in serious criminal cases to determine whether the evidence assembled by the Crown against an accused person is sufficient to proceed with a trial.
The Lucas family and supporters listened to five days of days of painful testimony at the preliminary hearing, where the judge issued a publication ban on the proceedings.
The couple, who have been detained since their arrests in May 2022, appeared in court Nov. 27 to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter.
Patrick Lucas told Ha-Shilth-Sa that he was not at court to hear the couple enter their pleas because there was a miscommunication.
“I thought it was just to fix a date for the plea, and I was told I didn’t need to be there,” said Lucas.
Lucas learned back in September that his former common-law wife and her husband would have their charges reduced from first degree murder to manslaughter and he was not okay with that.
“How could they let this play out to manslaughter when they admitted to what they did?” he asked.
He recalled that prosecutors approached him in September asking for his input, “but they said it’s pretty much a go,” he recalled.
“We, as a family, were going to try fight it - it’s not fair, they (Charleson and Frank) admitted what they were doing and what they did,” said Lucas.
What the distraught father was talking about was the four months of physical abuse his son suffered since he was returned to his mother after having been in foster care. The unspeakable torture and violence became so severe that Charleson and Frank kept Dontay from school when he had visible injuries. He suffered a lethal head injury when he dropped to the floor after being hung from the top of a door by his knees, according to a statement given by the Crown on Nov. 27.
But the guilty plea means that there will not be a trial.
Prosecutors decided to accept the manslaughter plea based on “their responsibilities as ministers of justice to independently, dispassionately and objectively promote public safety and rule of law,” wrote McLaughlin.
“In all cases prosecutors conduct resolution discussions based on the principles of fairness, openness, accuracy, non-discrimination and the public interest,” he stated. “The entirety of the information known to Crown counsel is taken into account, including information that oftentimes is not in the public domain.”
“I am very relieved to hear that Dontay’s mother Rykel and (stepfather) Mitchell pleaded guilty to manslaughter,” said NTC President Cloy-e-iss, Judith Sayers. “Going through a trial would have been so horrific for the family. Having to relive his final moments would have been devastating.”
Known for his brilliant smile, through tears, Lucas remembers Dontay.
“He was very happy, very outgoing, always smiling, very determined to learn new things. Dontay loved dancing, singing, and he wanted to be a fireman,” he said. “His smile lit up the room.”
Dontay had two full sisters, M.L., now 13 and L.L., who is now 7. Lucas says M.L. has her struggles but L.L. was only two when she lost her brother and has no memories of him.
Lucas has two younger daughters from another relationship.
Lucas and his daughters have the support of his parents, stepfather, siblings and large extended family. They continue to stand by him every step of the way.
“We will go to the sentencing, and will make a statement,” Lucas vowed.
He shared that he was told back in September by Crown prosecutors that the maximum sentence in this case would be 15 years, but he fears they will get a lighter term.
“We (family) wanted to go to trial for first-degree murder,” he added.
“Considering all the evidence, I think they should be getting charged with first-degree murder. I think they’re getting off light with manslaughter and I don’t think that’s fair,” said Lucas.
“It has taken so many years to get to this point but at least they will now be taking responsibility for their actions,” said Sayers. “Justice will be served when they are sentenced. It is important that they are found guilty for what they did, and the community sees this happening.”
Sentencing is scheduled for May 16, 2024.
“I will go to the sentencing, and will make a statement,” Lucas vowed.
For now, he is moving forward with his family as they plan a memorial potlatch for Dontay.