The man who stabbed Abbotsford student Letisha Reimer to death and seriously injured her friend in 2016 will be eligible to apply for parole in 16 years.
Justice Heather Holmes rendered her decision Wednesday morning (July 7) in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster against Gabriel Klein, 26, who chose not to address the court.
Klein was convicted in March 2020 of the second-degree murder of Reimer, 13, and the aggravated assault of her 14-year-old friend – identified in court as E.I.– at Abbotsford Senior Secondary on Nov. 1, 2016.
Second-degree murder comes with an automatic life sentence, but the judge needed to rule on parole eligibility, which can range from 10 to 25 years. The Crown had recommended 18 years until parole eligibility, while Klein’s lawyer had suggested 12 months.
Holmes also gave Klein a concurrent sentence of seven years for the aggravated assault, but he was given seven years’ credit for the four years and eight months he has already served in custody.
The judge also ruled that Klein can serve his time in the regional treatment centre of Pacific Institution in Abbotsford, where she said he will receive better treatment for his mental-health conditions, including schizophrenia.
Holmes devoted the first 20 minutes of her ruling focusing on the lasting impacts that the crime has had on the victims, their families, the school and the community.
She said the proceedings, to date, have been focused on Klein and “to what extent he is responsible for the horrific events at the school.”
“Now is the time when the spotlight can be shone on the victims – Letisha Reimer, E.I. and many others – in order to acknowledge the nature and extent of the harm Mr. Klein has done to them.”
Holmes said Letisha was valued as a “very special person – joyful, filled with laughter, poised and confident.”
“(She was) caring, generous as a volunteer, devoted to her family … with a beautiful smile, fun to be with, willing to be goofy and – in an unbearable irony – full of life,” she said.
Holmes said Letisha’s death has left her parents, two younger siblings, other family members and friends in deep anguish that continues today.
The judge said the attack of E.I. left her not only with extreme physical pain, but with severe and long-lasting emotional scars – including fear and anxiety – that also impact her family.
Holmes said E.I. has had difficulty celebrating her own accomplishments in the absence of her best friend.
The school community was also deeply traumatized, Holmes said. She said 58 WorkSafeBC claims were filed by school staff alone, and many of them have taken early retirement or changed school districts.
She said students were left feeling “traumatized and vulnerable,” and the pain and fear have been compounded with Letisha’s birthday and each lockdown alarm at the school.
In sentencing Klein, Holmes said there were several aggravating factors she considered, including that there were two victims, the victims were children, the effects on those impacted were “profound,” and that he used a large “carefully chosen” hunting knife to stab the girls.
She said she also considered the location of the crime.
“The attack was in a school, which society counts on to be a safe haven where young people can learn and develop,” Holmes said.
The only mitigating factors she considered were that Klein was “relatively young” at the time of the attack and that he has a Metis background as outlined in a Gladue report (a sentencing principle that recognizes that Indigenous people face racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system).
But Holmes said that Klein’s moral culpability is “extremely high.”
“Any violent attack on a child of any age … strikes at the core of our social values,” she said.
Letisha’s mom, Ellie, released a statement Wednesday afternoon in response to the sentencing:
“No amount of jail time will bring back my daughter, Letisha, but I am grateful that the court arrived at this decision today. This was a long, heavy journey that was made more difficult by a process that was tilted to the whims of the criminal, and yet the love of family, friends and complete strangers helped lighten our load.
“Along with the 16 years of incarceration, I ask our governments to review the court system as it pertains to not criminally responsible matters, so that victims are not re-victimized through the uncertainty and imbalance in the system. As well, there needs to be increased supports for those who struggle with substance addictions and mental wellness.
“Letisha always wanted to help, so if there is any good that can come from all of this, then let it be that we are improving our community, assisting others and working to ensure similar tragedies never happen again.”
The ruling brings to an end multiple court proceedings over the years, many of which examined Klein’s mental state at the time of the killings.
Klein was first declared unfit to stand trial in April 2018 and then again in September of that year.
But in January 2019, the BC Review Board – which manages cases of people who have been found not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial due to a mental disorder – found he was then fit for trial after a new medication regimen.
Klein’s trial began in October 2019 and ended with a guilty verdict in March 2020. He did not use the “not criminally responsible” (NCR) defence during the trial.
Klein’s sentencing hearing was then scheduled for September, but instead he was granted an NCR hearing, which concluded in April of this year.
His lawyer argued that Klein, who has schizophrenia, should not be held criminally responsible for the crimes because he did not have the capacity to appreciate the consequences of his actions or understand that they were wrong.
Klein testified that he stabbed the two girls because he thought one was a zombie and the other was a witch.
But the judge ruled that Klein should be held criminally responsible, and his prior conviction was to stand. His sentencing hearing, which included the presentation of victim impact statements took place June 23 and 25.
Today as the murderer is sentenced we @AbbyPoliceDept remember the innocent victim - Letisha Reimer. Our thoughts are with family, friends & @abbysenior. #AbbyStrong #TeamLetisha #StrengthInCommunity pic.twitter.com/DRnO5zQkkt— Mike Serr (@ChiefSerr) July 7, 2021