Just before Hendrikje (Ricky) Priester’s death in March 2008, Daniel Casgrain beat her so severely that she suffered four broken ribs, two open wounds to her scalp, and numerous bruises and contusions all over her body.
But evidence presented Friday afternoon at Casgrain’s sentencing hearing in Chilliwack Supreme Court indicated that the coroner who conducted the autopsy could not definitively conclude that the assault injuries were responsible for her death. Instead, the coroner said she died from a heart attack brought on by a pre-existing condition.
Casgrain, 57, was initially charged with second-degree murder, which was then reduced to manslaughter before he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.
Justice Catherine Bruce has reserved her decision on sentencing, and a date has not yet been set. Crown counsel Ross McLeod has recommended a five-year prison term, while defence lawyer Darrel Schultz is asking for three years.
The court was told that Priester, 52, and Casgrain had been in a four-year relationship at the time of her death. They met when Priester, who was a care aide, worked for Casgrain’s father.
McLeod said both had been drinking on the night of March 24 and got into an argument that progressed into a “prolonged” assault by Casgrain in which he repeatedly kicked Priester while his shoes were on.
McLeod said Priester, who was in a “vulnerable and fragile” state due to her heart condition and liver disease, was unable to defend herself as she was kicked all over her body, including seven blows to her head.
Priester placed a 911 call from the couple’s Mayfair Street apartment just before 8 p.m. but the operator who answered the call found the line disconnected. The operator called back twice and spoke with a man before concluding that police were not needed, believing the initial call was related to a theft.
Police responded to a call from a family member at about 7:30 the next morning, and found Priester dead. They later apologized publicly to the family for the mishandling of the 911 call.
McLeod said, in considering the sentence, the judge should take into account that Casgrain knew of his common-law wife’s health issues, but he left her to die on the kitchen floor after the assault and did not call for help.
Casgrain, who spent five weeks in prison after his arrest in 2008, issued a statement in court, apologizing to Priester’s family and saying he has been sober.
“I will do whatever it takes to be a better person,” he said.
Outside of court, Priester’s sister, Lucy Fairhurst, said the family did not believe his apology was sincere, and they are “disgusted” that he is being sentenced for aggravated assault, rather than murder.
“I can’t believe someone can do that to a person and think he’s going to get sympathy.”
Fairhurst said her sister – the mom of two grown children and grandmother of six – “didn’t have a mean streak in her body.”
“She was a genuine, fun-loving, caring person … She was always the one to help the underdog.”
The sentencing hearing was delayed more than a year after Casgrain recovered from serious leg injuries he suffered when he was hit by a car while travelling in his four-wheeled scooter.
He is also currently before the courts on charges of resisting or obstructing a peace officer and breach of his bail conditions from an incident in April of this year.
At that time, police received a report that an intoxicated man was causing a disturbance at a clothing store on McCallum Road. When they arrived, the suspect allegedly tried to punch the officer who placed him in handcuffs.