A 38-year-old woman who pleaded guilty to fatally assaulting her 22-month-old son was too overcome to speak when a Saskatoon provincial court judge asked if she had anything to say at her sentencing hearing on Monday.
Ashley Ahpay stood and buried her face in her hands and shook her head.
Initially charged with second-degree murder in her son’s July 8, 2020 death, Ahpay previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
An autopsy determined the child died of blunt force trauma to his trunk area, including fractures to his ribs and pelvis. No victim impact statements were entered.
Ahpay’s lawyer, Lisa Watson, requested a seven-year sentence, while Crown prosecutor Sheryl Fillo requested a 10-year term.
“She has accepted responsibility and certainly we do take that into account,” Fillo said.
The Crown also took into the account that the matter was resolved without the need for a preliminary hearing or a trial that would have resulted in testifying her other children.
Fillo noted that at the time of the boy’s death, Ahpay was subject to a conditional sentence order after pleading guilty to assaulting two of her daughters in 2017. The children were returned to her care in November 2019. They were briefly removed in June 2020, before they were returned to live with her at a supported living home on July 1, 2020.
Court heard Ahpay had limited memory of what happened to her son several days later, but accepted responsibility for causing his fatal injuries.
Fillo acknowledged that Ahpay had significant Gladue factors — the systemic or background factors in an accused’s life that a sentencing judge takes into account — but suggested the judge weigh those factors against the seriousness of the crime, the circumstances, that “a lot” of resources had been provided to address Ahpay’s issues, and that she was subject to a conditional sentence at the time.
She told court Ahpay had a history of abusing her other children and they had witnessed her hitting and slapping the boy, pulling his hair, and locking him in a closet and in a dresser drawer to deal with his crying.
Ahpay’s childhood included family breakdown and she was exposed to substance use living in her mother’s home, court heard. She also had attended a residential school in Grade 1 or Grade 2. As a child, she sometimes stayed in her grandparents’ loving home on Yellow Quill First Nation, where she felt loved, Watson said.
Court heard Ahpay was subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse in her life and struggled to develop a rapport with counselors, with a lot of turnover in those positions.
“I would submit that she would certainly benefit from a continuity of care,” Watson said.
Ahpay had a pattern of turning to substance use to deal with her pain, she added. After her last child was born in May 2020, she felt depressed and overwhelmed, but didn’t feel comfortable speaking out, court heard.
An agreed statement of facts read in court said Ahpay was at home with five of her children on the morning of July 8, 2020. One of Ahpay’s daughters went into her bedroom and saw Ahpay changing the boy, who was on the floor. Ahpay asked the girl to watch another daughter, and Ahpay was left alone in the room with the boy.
The girl heard her mother yell the boy’s name and she went to check on them, only to find her shaking the boy, then taking him to the bathroom to splash water on him.
First responders found the boy unresponsive, not breathing and without a pulse, but with several bruises on his abdomen. He was later declared dead.
Ahpay told Saskatoon police she was trying to dress her son, but his face looked funny and he flopped over, but she didn’t know what happened to cause him to collapse.
Police charged her in October 2021 after a lengthy investigation.
Judge Brad Mitchell reserved his sentencing decision until Dec. 13.
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