Evidence in the case against two youths accused of killing South Surrey mechanic Paul Prestbakmo in August 2019 leaves no doubt the pair intended for him to die, a judge has ruled.
In finding the teens – who were 15 and 16 years old at the time of the crime – guilty of second-degree murder, Judge Robert Hamilton said many factors heard during trial pointed to that intent to kill, including that the pair left a house party armed with knives and that they stabbed Prestbakmo 42 times in the space of 26 seconds.
The sheer number of wounds “shows a lethal intent to kill,” Hamilton said Tuesday (May 18) in Surrey Provincial Court.
The verdict came as a relief for friends and family members of Prestbakmo. His sister Liz said she was “relieved, happy” with the outcome, while his brother Stephen is hopeful the youth will be sentenced as adults.
They killed Prestbakmo “because they were having a bad night,” Stephen said outside court.
“My brother was a good person. What they did was uncalled for.”
Hamilton considered the evidence of 27 witnesses – including some who were as young as 12 at the time of the killing – in reaching his verdict.
Over the course of the trial – which began in January and wrapped up on March 8 – he heard that Prestbakmo, 45, was stabbed in the early hours of Aug. 16, after stepping outside to take out some garbage and have a cigarette.
The two youths had been uninvited guests to a nearby house party, and they encountered Prestbakmo in a commercial parking lot at the southwest corner of 18 Avenue and 152 Street on the second of two walks that they’d set out on in the early morning hours.
Hamilton found undisputed evidence included a combination of GPS data from one accused’s phone, CCTV footage and testimony from some of the invited guests that shows the pair left the residence twice. The first time, they moved to the area of 152 Street and 17 Avenue, where it was alleged they’d assaulted a White Rock senior, leaving him with life-changing injuries.
While Hamilton said he had “no doubt” that the two youth interacted with the senior for 45 seconds – based on evidence including that the senior’s blood was found on a shoe of one of the accused – he had no evidence to prove exactly what transpired in that time frame. While he found there was “a level of considerable suspicion” around the teens’ involvement in the senior’s injuries, ultimately, Hamilton found the pair not guilty of aggravated assault in connection with that attack.
The second walk took the youth to the scene of Prestbakmo’s death, Hamilton found. He said the Crown “tendered an overwhelming case” in proving that the youth had acted together in the mechanic’s killing.
While he said he could not put any weight on the evidence of a witness who claimed to have seen the stabbing take place, Hamilton said CCTV footage of the altercation shows one individual wearing an accused’s distinctive sweatpants.
Combined with GPS location data, evidence that the pair had been out for a walk together, and blood and DNA evidence recovered from the murder scene and the residence where the party was taking place, “there can be no dispute” that they were at the scene, he said.
Stabbed in the neck, back, chest and arm, Prestbakmo died just before 3:30 a.m.
Hamilton dismissed an allegation by one of the accused that the stabbing was the result of a gang hit.
Friends, family and supporters listened to Hamilton’s review and reasons from the gallery of a high-security courtroom, as well as from an overflow courtroom, which was opened due to pandemic-related capacity restrictions.
Ahead of the proceedings, many of the attendees gathered in a circle out front of the courthouse, as Tyler Whitley drummed and sang.
Whitley told the group that “honesty will prevail” in the courthouse.
Semiahmoo First Nation member Roxanne Charles also spoke.
“I really pray that the youth today are held accountable for their actions and that they get the help they need,” she said. “I really pray that the right decision comes down.”
In a second circle following the verdict, Stephen Prestbakmo said he would never forgive the youths.
The senior’s sister, Val Taylor, was also in court for the verdict. She told Peace Arch News that her brother, now 64, has been unable to live independently since the attack. He doesn’t remember what happened, but said his doctor has told her it “fast-tracked” the pace of her brother’s dementia.
“I’m just watching my little brother die,” she said.
Due to their ages, the identities of the accused are protected by a publication ban. The next court date in the case is June 2; a sentencing hearing is expected in about 10 weeks.
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