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Mother of Samson Cree Nation woman killed in 2020 dissatisfied with 13-year sentence

Billie Johnson, 30, disappeared on Christmas Eve 2020. Her boyfriend Kenneth Courtorielle, 38, has been convicted of manslaughter in her death.  (Marless Johnson - image credit)
Billie Johnson, 30, disappeared on Christmas Eve 2020. Her boyfriend Kenneth Courtorielle, 38, has been convicted of manslaughter in her death. (Marless Johnson - image credit)

Clutching an eagle feather and a photo of her daughter Billie Johnson, Marless Johnson addressed the young woman's killer, pledging to never stop fighting for justice for her daughter.

"For all the pain you caused your victims, may you never see a good life," the mother said, as she read a victim impact statement during Kenneth Courtorielle's sentencing hearing Friday.

"For I will be at every parole hearing and I will prove that you're incapable of change — you can try to jump through their hoops. This will not matter."

Courtorielle was sentenced to 13 years total for three criminal convictions: 10½ years for manslaughter, two years for offering an indignity to a dead body and six months for a parole violation.

The 38-year-old was on parole for a sex offence when he killed Billie Johnson, 30, in December 2020, when they lived together in an Edmonton apartment.

He pleaded guilty to the indignity and parole violation. Court of King's Bench Justice Stephen Hillier found him guilty of manslaughter after a trial last year.

Courtorielle was granted 33 months credit for time served, including two months' credit for injuries sustained during an assault in the Edmonton Remand Centre that caused him to lose half his vision in one eye.

He has 10 years and three months left to serve.

As Hillier finished delivering his sentence on Friday, Marless Johnson stood up and tried to speak — first to the judge, then to others in the courtroom.

As Courtorielle was led out of the prisoner box and back toward the courthouse cells, Marless Johnson shouted insults and attempted to get to him, but was stopped by sheriffs.

A 'harsh reality'

When Hillier convicted Courtorielle of having caused Johnson's death, he accepted that the man may not have been trying to kill her when he struck her in the face at least once.

On Friday, the judge noted that it's a "harsh reality" that Courtorielle's actions after killing Billie Johnson have made it difficult to know exactly what happened that day.

Kenneth Courtorielle, 37, is on trial for the manslaughter for the 2020 death of his girlfriend Billie Johnson.
Kenneth Courtorielle, 37, is on trial for the manslaughter for the 2020 death of his girlfriend Billie Johnson.

Courtorielle was sentenced to 13 years for manslaughter and related offences in the 2020 death of his girlfriend Billie Johnson. (Court exhibit.)

Courtorielle abandoned Billie Johnson's body in a rural, wooded area outside of Edmonton, where they were exposed to the elements and wildlife for four months.

He went to great lengths to hide evidence and clean blood from the apartment and his truck. He repeatedly lied to police, tried to blame others for Billie Johnson's death and did not intervene even as her family launched a desperate search for her.

"I am sorry," Courtorielle said, when asked if he'd like to address the court before being sentenced.

Crown prosecutor Jim Stewart advocated for a total sentence of 15 years. He argued Billie Johnson was a vulnerable Indigenous woman, and that other aggravating factors should be given more weight than any mitigating factors related to Courtorielle's upbringing.

Court heard that a Gladue report — a pre-sentencing report that examines background factors of Indigenous people who find themselves before the court — was prepared and included information that Courtorielle was abused and has experienced trauma and loss throughout his life.

But court also heard that no family nor community members were willing to verify the information Courtorielle provided to the Gladue report writer. Several cited safety concerns.

Defence lawyer Stephen Brophy argued his client should be handed a sentence of 10½ years total.

Victim impact statements

During her victim impact statement, Marless Johnson described her daughter as a wonderful, mischievous kid, who grew up to be a loving mother to her two young children.

"My daughter was very intelligent, quick-witted, incredibly beautiful and had a wonderful sense of humour. She touched a lot of lives because of who she was," the mother said.

She and Billie Johnson's sister, who also delivered a statement, described the pain and upheaval that followed the woman's disappearance and the discovery of her remains.

Marless Johnson expressed dissatisfaction with the sentence while speaking outside the courthouse after the hearing. She said she doesn't believe the justice system is taking violence against Indigenous women seriously enough.

A representative of Samson Cree Nation, of which Billie Johnson was a member, also attended the sentencing hearing to share a community impact statement with the court, and called for Hillier, the judge, to impose a geographical ban to prevent Courtorielle from being on their lands.

"Ms. Johnson's violent death has had a chilling effect on women — in particular, the women of Samson Cree Nation," the spokesperson said. "The case touched a nerve for many, some of whom have suffered from domestic violence themselves."

Samson Cree Nation conducted research about citizens who have gone missing or been murdered, which identified 33 women and 48 men, the spokesperson said.

Hillier did not impose the ban.