Plea entered in 2014 Akwesasne murder

The Cornwall courthouse at 29 Second Street West. (Newswatch Group/File)

CORNWALL – A Summerstown woman has entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge of manslaughter in the 2014 murder of an Akwesasne man.

Rachel Fenn, 41, had originally been charged with second degree murder in the Nov. 30, 2014 death of David “Tawit” Benson Hopps, 61, of Cornwall Island.

There is a co-accused in the case – Christopher Baldwin of Westport, Ont. – also facing the same charge. He has also struck a plea deal and is scheduled to be sentenced on a charge of manslaughter on June 28, court heard.

Following the plea during Fenn’s court appearance today (Thursday), Crown Dan Brisebois read an agreed statement of facts before Judge Franco Giamberardino.

The defence team is lawyers Michael Crystal of Ottawa and Ian Paul of Cornwall.

Fenn, wearing a red hoodie and black pants, was in a wheelchair at the back of the courtroom. She wore a shoe on one foot while the other was elevated and covered with a white sock. Fenn started crying as the statement of facts were read aloud for the court.

The statements of facts, as well as testimony and a victim impact statement are part of evidence under a temporary publication ban.

It’s “normal practice” for evidence in cases where people are jointed charged but tried separately, to keep that evidence under wraps, in order to protect the integrity of the legal process, should either of the accused decide at the last minute to withdraw their plea and opt for a trial, Brisbois explained.

“Both publication bans in place right now (Baldwin and Fenn) serves the purpose of avoiding the potential scenario where by the matters are not disposed of, they eventually reach trial stage and evidence has been essentially published,” Brisebois said.

“As long as the public knows that ultimately they will have complete access to what has taken place and the facts and so forth, I don’t think there’s any problem,” defence lawyer Michael Crystal added.

After the statement of facts, Brisebois then entered a lengthy list of documents for evidence before a family member of the victim read an emotional statement for the court.

The defence had one witness take the stand and was expected to call two more witnesses to testify today.

Both sides were also expected to lay out their case for sentencing this afternoon.

According to the Criminal Code of Canada, a murder charge can be reduced to manslaughter if it can be proven the person who committed the act did so “in the heat of passion caused by sudden provocation.”

Unlike murder, manslaughter doesn’t carry an automatic “life” sentence, but has a mandatory minimum of four years in prison.

Fenn has already served approximately four years in pre-trial custody, according to the defence.

Another date has already been scheduled for later this month to continue the sentencing proceedings.

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