Tears and words of forgiveness as couple is sentenced for death of 6-year-old Don-Tay Lucas | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

Tears and words of forgiveness as couple is sentenced for death of 6-year-old Don-Tay Lucas

Port Alberni, BC

A Port Alberni couple has been sentenced to 15 years after they pled guilty to manslaughter in the 2018 death of six-year-old Don-Tay Patrick Lucas.

Following sentencing, the judge allowed members of the Lucas family, including Don-tay’s biological father, to stand before the accused to offer words of forgiveness to them. There wasn’t a dry eye in the courtroom as the family reached out with words of love and compassion.

But first, the court heard the joint submission from prosecutors and counsel for the accused, along with victim impact statements and Gladue Reports. The judge told the spectators that Gladue reports examine the impacts of colonial policies, discrimination and racism on accused Indigenous people.

Gladue reports, said the judge, attempt to address the overincarceration of Aboriginal people in Canada. It is not, he said, a discount, as some people believe.

Both Rykel and Mitchell Frank pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter in November 2023 and have been in custody since their arrests on May 6, 2022. They were initially charged with first degree murder, but last year this was downgraded to manslaughter with their guilty pleas, avoiding a trial.

The court heard from Rykel and Mitchell, who both apologized to the families and the communities affected for their actions. The couple, the court heard, are remorseful and entered guilty pleas to be accountable for what they did to spare the family the pain of a trial.

“Not asking for help was the biggest mistake I ever made, and if I could change places with my son, I would,” Rykel told the court.

Rykel Frank (nee Charleson) is the mother of Don-Tay Patrick Lucas with her former partner, Patrick Lucas. The couple had two other daughters. Following their breakup, she began a relationship with Mitchell Frank. The couple married shortly before Don-tay's death in 2018.

According to her Gladue report, which had portions read in court, Rykel was abandoned by her father before birth and then abandoned again by her mother, who was in addiction at the time. Rykel was raised by her grandmother until she was five years old, the year her grandmother passed away.

She went back to her mother, who was a residential school survivor suffering from untreated trauma which “leaked onto Hannah”, according to the Galue report. Hannah is an alternate name used by Rykel. The defence lawyer noted that in Rykel’s family tree of 500 people, more than 200 of them went to residential school.

“Rykel is first generation not to go,” he stated.

As she grew into her teens, Rykel suffered physical and sexual abuse and began using alcohol and drugs at age 13. She moved onto harder drugs as a young adult.

Rykel’s mother died in 2022.

Her husband, Mitchell Frank of Ahousaht, grew up in a home where alcohol abuse and family violence was prevalent. His Gladue report indicated that he grew up witnessing his father injuring his mother in acts of violence and sometimes turned that violence on the kids.

The court heard that Mitchell Frank was raised with poor parental modeling, spending seven years in several foster homes, from age nine to 16.

The report also stated that Mr. Frank struggled with suicidal ideation and alcohol addiction.

By the time of Don-Tay’s death, Mitchell and Rykel moved in together and had a one-year-old child together. Rykel had just suffered a miscarriage, the court heard, when Don-Tay and his sister were returned to her care. Along with their own children, Rykel had in her care her six-year-old sister.

Overnight they went from two children to four. They didn’t have formula for their hungry infant, they had limited life skills and they couldn’t manage the situation, stated the defence. Rykel told her lawyer that she now knows she wasn’t emotionally ready to take her children back, but she was afraid to tell social workers, for fear all of her children would be taken into care.

“They were struggling. People knew they were struggling. They had no business taking Don-Tay,” said counsel for Mitchell Frank. “They were left with something they could not handle.”

Hanging his head, Mitchell Frank told the families and the community that he is sorry, and that he loved Don-Tay. He said he is continuously working on bettering himself.

According to defence lawyers, the couple began abusing Don-Tay in ways that they learned along the way. From December 2017 to March 2018, Don-Tay was subjected to various forms of violent abuse. His death was caused by blunt force trauma to the brain.

In his sentencing, the judge said no jail term will bring Don-Tay back, but the sentence must reflect society’s condemnation of the crime.

The judge sentenced both to 15 years less time served, which amounts to 143 months each.

Ancillary orders for both Franks include a prohibition of firearms possession upon release and they must provide DNA samples to be added to the national database.

Following sentencing, the judge allowed the Lucas family an opportunity to speak to Rykel and Mitchell. The couple stood, in shackles, facing the family.

“Hannah (Rykel’s other name) and Mitchell,” said Don-Tay’s grandmother Judy Campbell, through tears. “We forgive you.”

She noted that the Charlesons, Franks, and Lucas’ are huge families.

“It hasn’t been easy, but we must do this in order to let our little man rest,” she told the accused.

Another young woman spoke, telling Rykel and Mitchell that their girls are so precious.

“We want you to know that you guys are loved and missed in the community,” she told them through sobs.

Rykel, wiping her tears, heard another family member say, “I love you – I’ve always told you that.”

“It’s been very difficult, but I forgive you guys, both,” said Don-tay’s father, Patrick Lucas, before being helped out of the courtroom in the arms of his sisters.

In a statement from the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, President Cloy-e-iis, Judith Sayers said she hopes that the sentencing brings some solace and healing for those affected by Don-Tay’s death.

“Our thoughts are with the family, friends and communities of Dontay Lucas who continue to remember him and grieve his loss,” said Sayers. “Our Nation is heartbroken at the loss of this young soul whose tragic death has had a profound and long-lasting impact on the Nuu-chah-nulth communities.”

“We all want justice for Dontay. We hope today’s sentencing provides some comfort to all who have been impacted,” added NTC Vice-President Les Doiron. “The NTC deeply respects the strength of the Lucas family in expressing forgiveness to Rykel Charleson and Mitchell Frank in the courtroom after sentencing. We encourage everyone to respect this tremendous act of forgiveness so that Dontay can finally rest and his family, friends and community can continue on their healing path.”

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