Twelve years in Akwesasne love triangle murder

(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – The co-accused in a 2014 murder on Cornwall Island has been given a 12 year prison sentence in the death of David Hopps.

Christopher Baldwin, 34, of Westport, Ont. was sentenced Thursday morning in a Cornwall court after pleading guilty in February to manslaughter.

With credit for time served, Baldwin will spend a little over seven-and-half years behind bars. As for parole eligibility, the judge is leaving that decision to the Parole Board of Canada.

The Crown had been asking for a 17-18 year sentence; the defence wanted 7-8 years.

Baldwin and 34-year-old Rachel Fenn of Summerstown, Ont. were originally charged with second-degree murder for the death of the 61-year-old Cornwall Island man.

Fenn is already serving a five year sentence after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

In her ruling, Judge Johanne Lafrance-Cardinal said the protection of the public was “paramount” given Baldwin’s history with alcohol addiction and anger management issues, which justified a “significant sentence.”

Baldwin had previously served time for manslaughter for killing a woman by choking and punching her in the head during an alcohol-fueled fight. In the October 2004 agreed statement of facts in that case, “he was mad and could not stop himself from choking her.”

Lafrance-Cardinal is concerned those alcohol addiction and impulse control problems haven’t been addressed. “Twelve years later he’s still very much in need of treatment. He will continue to be a threat to society unless he gets the necessary help,” she said.

A psychological report shows Baldwin also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from childhood abuse, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), alcohol abuse disorder and an anti-social personality disorder. He takes medication to control some of those afflictions.

Broken love triangle

The court also lifted the publication ban on the evidence in this case.

Christopher Baldwin was Rachel Fenn’s boyfriend after her “10 year on-and-off relationship” with David Hopps dissolved. Baldwin and Fenn started dating about two months before the murder in November 2014.

There had been a fight between Baldwin and Hopps after visiting his Island Road home on Oct. 31, 2014 – 29 days before Hopps’ death – court heard.

On the night of the murder (Nov. 29, 2014), Baldwin and Fenn had travelled to Hopps’ home to retrieve her dogs. Baldwin had picked up beer before he and Fenn took a taxi to the island.

“During that early evening, an altercation broke out between Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Hopps, which resulted in the murder of David Benson Hopps,” Judge Lafrance-Cardinal said.

Court heard a Pyrex bowl had been smashed over the victim’s head and a knife was also used. An autopsy would later confirm Hopps had died from “numerous blunt and sharp force injuries to the head and neck” which led to significant bleeding. But those wounds alone didn’t kill him. The medical examiner’s report added the large amount of alcohol in Hopps’ system (a blood alcohol reading of .303) and an existing heart condition (heart disease) were likely secondary contributors to his death.

Mr. Hopps’ body was discovered the next day, lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen.

Baldwin would later confess to authorities about the crime, following his arrest.

“He confirmed that he and Ms. Fenn were going to the reserve to pick up the dogs. Mr. Baldwin admitted that all of them were drinking. That he and the deceased were involved in a fight. He indicated that the deceased went after Ms. Fenn and then after him. He admitted to striking the deceased during the fight on the head…with a glass oven dish and the dish would have shattered. He claims that because there was no hydro in the house it was difficult for him to see if there was any blood visible. He indicates that Mr. Hopps was still living when they left the home. He was making groaning sounds,” the judge read.

In her analysis, the judge found no mitigating factors, other than the early guilty plea.

But there were plenty of aggravating factors – a total of seven.

“Mr. Baldwin placed himself as a third participant in a very dysfunctional relationship, that of Ms. Fenn and Mr. Hopps. A relationship laced with alcohol abuse and domestic violence, initiated and fueled by both parties. He knew there was a good possibility of violence on the date in question,” Judge Lafrance-Cardinal said.

She said Baldwin and Fenn had already “tested the waters” during the Oct. 31, 2014 visit.

The judge also noted Baldwin’s post-offence conduct “exacerbates this moral blame-worthiness.”

“It is one thing to assault a vulnerable old man and hit him over the head with a Pyrex bowl. It’s another thing altogether to not seek assistance and to let him bleed to death.”

Following her ruling, members of Hopps’ family were upset with the verdict. “Twelve years? Bull—!” said one man in a purple Akwesasne t-shirt.

Outside the court, they declined comment to reporters.