‘Weak’ case leads to likely plea deal in Ura­nium City deaths

Prince Albert Daily Herald - - OPINION - ARTHUR WHITE-CRUMMEY

Seven years after a fire in Ura­nium City left two men dead, the case against one of their al­leged killers looked set to end in a deal with no jail time – un­til he failed to show up for court.

Ruth Fa­fard con­firmed that the Crown was plan­ning to with­draw a man­slaugh­ter charge against Christo­pher Cham­pagne. In ex­change, he was set to plead guilty to com­mon as­sault on Thurs­day at Prince Al­bert’s Court of Queen’s Bench.

“That was the plan to­day,” Fa­fard said.

The RCMP’s his­tor­i­cal case unit ar­rested Cham­pagne in 2014, after a fouryear in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a fire that killed Jack Cochrane and Phillip Night­trav­eller. But de­fence lawyer Brian Pf­ef­ferle said the ev­i­dence link­ing Cham­pagne to the 2010 blaze was “weak” and “en­tirely cir­cum­stan­tial.”

“There were all sorts of is­sues with the ev­i­dence,” Pf­ef­ferle said. “They can prove that th­ese two guys were in the house ear­lier and they can prove... that there was an in­ci­dent or a fight. But they can’t prove any­thing else.

“I think the Crown has ac­knowl­edged that,” he con­tin­ued. “They made a de­ci­sion that they wouldn’t have a rea­son­able like­li­hood of con­vic­tion.”

Michael LaRocque of Stony Rapids is also fac­ing charges for the in­ci­dent. His lawyer, Kevin Hill, said the ev­i­dence against his client is some­what dif­fer­ent from what he’s seen in Cham­pagne’s case. But he said he’s also work­ing to­ward a plea deal.

“It was al­ways a dif­fi­cult case for the Crown,” Hill said, “in terms of who or what or un­der what cir­cum­stances those un­for­tu­nate in­di­vid­u­als passed away. I think that has al­ways fac­tored into our dis­cus­sions.”

On Thurs­day, Pf­ef­ferle told the court that the Crown and the de­fence had agreed to a joint rec­om­men­da­tion for a “com­mu­nity-based sen­tence” for Cham­pagne. But that will have to wait, since his client didn’t make it to Prince Al­bert in time for the hear­ing.

Pf­ef­ferle said Cham­pagne was trav­el­ling from his home in Bri­tish Columbia, but “got stuck” in Al­berta.

“He tried his best to be here,” Pf­ef­ferle said.

His ab­sence led Fa­fard to seek a Canada-wide war­rant for Cham­pagne’s ar­rest. She said that fam­ily mem­bers of both Cochrane and Night­trav­eller had trav­elled hours to at­tend the hear­ing. She didn’t want them to re­turn a sec­ond time in vain.

“All have trav­elled sig­nif­i­cant dis­tances to be here to­day,” she said. “They told me that it’s very im­por­tant the see Mr. Cham­pagne’s face when they read their vic­tim im­pact state­ments to him.”

Night­trav­eller’s step­fa­ther told the Daily Her­ald that the ex­pe­ri­ence caused emo­tions to surge up as he thought about the loss of his son, but he de­clined to dis­cuss the mat­ter fur­ther.

Jus­tice G.A. Meschish­nick granted Fa­fard’s re­quest. He is­sued a war­rant and resched­uled the sen­tenc­ing hear­ing for Oc­to­ber 4.

Hill said that LaRocque’s sen­tenc­ing may also be ready to pro­ceed on that date. He said he’s hope­ful that his client will avoid jail time.

“We’re still un­der dis­cus­sions,” he said. “But we ex­pect that it could end up in a sim­i­lar, if not the same man­ner.”


A seven-year-old case in­volv­ing a fire in Ura­nium City was set to end in a plea deal on Thurs­day, but the ac­cused never ar­rived in court.

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