Mother and stepfather face sentence for six-year-old’s death | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Mother and stepfather face sentence for six-year-old’s death

Port Alberni, BC

On Thursday, May 16 the mother and stepfather of a six-year-old are scheduled to appear in Port Alberni Law Courts to receive their sentence for the boy’s death.

Don-Tay Patrick Lucas was only six years old when he was found unresponsive in a south Port Alberni townhouse on March 13, 2018. First responders and police were told that the child was injured after a fall down the stairs, but suspicions arose immediately and the death became the focus of a years-long investigation by the RCMP and BC Coroner’s Service.

Four years later, Don-Tay’s mother and stepfather were charged with first degree murder. On May 7, 2022, Rykel Charleson, 28, and her partner Mitchell Frank, 29, were arrested and have been held in custody since.

In June 2023 a preliminary hearing was held in Port Alberni Law Courts over five days to determine if the Crown prosecutors had enough evidence to proceed to trial. The prosecution laid out in graphic detail the final months and hours of Don-Tay Lucas’ life. The case was headed to trial, but on Nov. 27, 2023 the Crown accepted guilty pleas from the couple to reduced charges of manslaughter.

At that time, Ha-Shilth-Sa spoke to Don-Tay’s biological father, Patrick Lucas, who was disappointed about the turn of events. He told Ha-Shilth-Sa that he learned two months earlier that the couple would plead guilty to lesser charges.

“How could they let this play out to manslaughter when they admitted to what they did?” he asked at the time.

Lucas said he was consulted by prosecutors about the new pleas but felt that he was not given a choice in the matter.

“[T]hey said it’s pretty much a go,” he said.

According to the Criminal Code of Canada, first degree murder is “planned and deliberate”, or can also occur when a death is caused by someone being forcibly confined. Under Canadian law, first degree can be reduced to manslaughter if it’s proven that the conditions leading to death fall under the lesser charge. Manslaughter is defined as homicide committed without the intention to cause death, although there might have been an effort to cause harm. This can pertain to an unlawful act that unintentionally results in death, or criminal negligence in which the reckless disregard for a human life is evident. 

At the time that the guilty plea was announced, prosecutors stated that their decision to accept the manslaughter charge is based on their “responsibilities as ministers of justice to independently, dispassionately and objectively promote public safety and rule of law,” wrote Don McLaughlin, communications counsel for the BC Prosecution Service.

The guilty plea means there will be no trial. Instead, Charleson and Frank will appear in Port Alberni Law Courts on May 16 for sentencing.

Lucas said he would be there to make a statement. He asks that friends, family, and supporters join him in a rally that day to demand justice for Don-Tay. The rally starts at the Port Alberni Law Courts at 9:15 a.m. with the sentencing hearing commencing inside the courthouse at 10 a.m.

According to their spokesperson Graham Hughes, the family wanted a trial.

“They want everyone to hear the evidence, to have the story told of what happened to Don-Tay – it’s important to know what happened so that it doesn’t happen to another child,” said Hughes.

The Lucas family and supporters want public inquiries into both the life and death of Don-Tay Patrick Lucas. They want to know where the system failed and how to prevent the deaths of children in care.

“In B.C. one child in foster care is critically injured or dies. We need to examine how children are being failed,” said Hughes.

“We invite you to bring signs, drums or simply yourself to stand in solidarity with the Lucas family,” they said.

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