REGINA COUPLE APPEALS
When is child neglect murder and how does moral blame differ from legal responsibility?Those were among the thorny issues argued Tuesday before the province’s top court in appeals for a Regina couple convicted in the death of one child and harm suffered by another.From her prison in B.C. and his in Alberta, Tammy and Kevin Goforth watched via video link as their lawyers urged the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal to alter the couple’s sentences and convictions.High school sweethearts who were married 23 years before they went to prison nearly three years ago, the Goforths will have to wait to learn if their lawyers succeeded. After listening to three hours of legal arguments, supplementing written documents, Justices Neal Caldwell, Robert Leurer, and Brian Barrington-foote reserved decision.On Feb. 6, 2016, a jury found Tammy Lynn Goforth, now 42, guilty of second-degree murder and Kevin Eric Goforth, now 43, guilty of manslaughter in the death of a four-year-old girl. Both were also convicted of unlawfully causing bodily harm to that victim’s two-year-old sister.Tammy was given a mandatory life sentence with eligibility to seek parole set at 17 years, and concurrent time on the bodily harm charge. Meanwhile, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Ellen Gunn sentenced Kevin to 15 years in prison, but with credit for his pretrial custody and “house arrest” while on bail, the term was reduced to 14 years.“The course of conduct of the Goforths towards these two innocent children is deplorable and unexplainable,” Gunn said at the time of sentencing in March 2016.The girls were in the Goforths’ home only nine months, after Social Services placed the girls there under a person of sufficient interest (PSI) arrangement in November 2011. A PSI is similar to a foster care arrangement, except PSIS usually have some familial relationship to the child in care.On July 31, 2012, the Goforths took the severely emaciated fouryear-old to hospital.Unresponsive on arrival, she was taken off life support two days later after heart failure resulted in brain death.Police and crisis workers found the younger sister and brought her to hospital on Aug. 1, 2012. Like her sister, she too was malnourished, dehydrated and bruised but survived with treatment.Gunn determined the girls had been deprived of food for a minimum of three to four weeks and fluids for at least a day. Medical help wasn’t sought despite the obvious state of their health.Emotions ran high in the courtroom three years ago during the verdicts and sentencing, but the mood was far more subdued Tuesday in a courtroom filled primarily with legal students, journalists and members of the Goforths’ family.Representing Tammy, defence lawyer Brian Pfefferle described the jury’s decision as “unreasonable.” He questioned how jurors could find Tammy guilty of murder, but Kevin guilty of the lesser offence of manslaughter.“At what point does child neglect become murder?” asked Pfefferle. He agreed the sisters suffered significant neglect — but argued it fell short of an intention to commit murder and suggested a manslaughter verdict instead.But Crown prosecutor Bev Klatt said there was evidence Tammy had primary care of the children, including meals, diapering and discipline — which reflected the differing verdicts. For second-degree murder, the jury considered if Tammy appreciated that a failure to provide the necessaries of life could result in death, and was reckless whether or not death occurred.“The verdicts can clearly be reconciled on a logical basis,” she said.Defence lawyer Kevin Hill, representing Kevin Goforth, argued Gunn misinstructed the jury. He stressed the difference between moral and legal responsibility, and argued his client didn’t have the same legal duty of care as Tammy since he didn’t have a direct hand in the girls’ day-to-day care and was unaware of the PSI.“Mr. Goforth was on the sidelines,” Hill said. He also contended Kevin had a lawful excuse because he trusted what his wife told him about the children getting fed.But Klatt countered that Kevin resided in the home and couldn’t help but have seen the children wasting away, locked up in their room, and the bruising. She added Kevin himself testified that he fulfilled a parental role, even if didn’t change diapers or provide meals.While the defence lawyers argued the sentences were “demonstrably unfit” and should be reduced, Klatt said the sentences may be exceptional — but so was the crime.“This province has never seen a case like this,” she said.
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