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Belcourt trial: 'My poor brother went through hell'

Dec 08 2012

Leslie Hankel's family members are happy with the jail time handed down to the men who killed him, but the terms - a life sentence for Andrew Belcourt and 12 years for Sam Mcgrath - haven't dulled their pain.

Hankel, 52, was killed during a botched home invasion and robbery in 2010.

Belcourt and Mcgrath were under the mistaken impression that he was a drug dealer and would have plenty for them to steal. They ended up taking small amounts of marijuana and money. Hankel died after being shot in the head.

"None of the evidence was easy to listen to," said Mary Beech, Hankel's sister.

"My poor brother went through hell. It's horrible what they did to him. He must have been so scared."

Belcourt, 22, was convicted of second-degree murder and given a life sentence with no chance of parole for 17 years.

Mcgrath, 21, was found guilty of manslaughter and received a sentence of 12 years. He was given credit for time already spent in custody, reducing his jail time to nine years and 345 days.

Both men also received concurrent sentences of seven years for breaking-and-entering and 10 years for robbery with a firearm, offences to which they had previously pleaded guilty.

In determining the sentence, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Macaulay said he rejected Belcourt's assertion that shooting Hankel was an accident, choosing instead to believe that Belcourt took the shot after his mask fell off because he was afraid of being identified.

Having Belcourt and Mcgrath off the street is a relief, Beech said. "We'd hate to think that some poor other family would go through something this horrible."

Her sister, Kathy Rogers, said that their brother, who had schizophrenia, preferred to keep to himself much of the time.

"He panicked over the littlest and tiniest things, and his home was his sanctuary," she said.

"It was pretty awful that he was invaded and killed. He really liked being in Fernwood and he really liked where he was, and to have that happen ... I can't describe it."

Rogers said she was especially pleased with Belcourt's prison time. "Such a young person and so violent," she said.

Crown lawyer Catherine Murray called the result "a just and fit sentence" and noted the importance of testimony from a number of witnesses.

"It was really tough for them to come through, especially some associates of Mr. Belcourt," she said.

In his reasons for sentencing, Macaulay called the crimes committed against Henkel "brutal and extremely callous" and cited the "atrocious" criminal records of Belcourt and Mcgrath.

Macaulay said Belcourt's record dates back to when he was 13 and includes more than 40 offences, while Mcgrath's record has reached 20 offences. Both men have previous assault convictions.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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