‘Our son should not have died’
Yarmouth man receives five years for manslaughter in May 2021 shooting
A Yarmouth judge said if anyone doubts the scourge that crack cocaine and other hard drugs has on communities and individuals, they need only step inside a criminal courtroom in Nova Scotia to see the impacts.
“Almost daily, if not weekly, the full tragedy that drug inflicts on our communities is on full display,” Judge James Burrill said while sentencing a Yarmouth man on a charge of manslaughter after a dispute over the payment of drugs led to the shooting death of a 41-year-old man in May 2021.
“This was a tragic death,” Crown prosecutor Shauna MacDonald added. “This did not need to happen.”
James Spurrell, 40, was sentenced to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the death of Kyle Van Drunen, who died after being shot in the lower back.
The sentencing took place June 23 in Yarmouth Provincial Court and was a joint recommendation of the Crown and defence. Spurrell had originally been charged with second-degree murder but a plea deal was reached on the lesser charge.
One of the difficulties the Crown said it had with its case was this wasn't a forensicsheavy case. “It was a witnessheavy case and we had real difficulty,” MacDonald told the court, as she outlined what took place two years ago.
She said on May 24, 2021, Van Drunen went to a Chester Street residence to buy crack cocaine. He arrived by taxi around 8:45 p.m. and went upstairs where Spurrell and others were hanging out. Spurrell and the visitor both consumed crack.
“At the end of the evening a dispute arose between the two individuals about how Mr. Van Drunen was going to pay Mr. Spurrell for the crack cocaine that he consumed,” the Crown said. Another person inside the residence, Gordon
Hein, was also upset with Van Drunen, believing he was making romantic overtures to his partner.
As Van Drunen began to leave, Spurrell shot him once in the lower back with a 22-calibre firearm.
“Mr. Van Drunen continued to exit the residence and was chased down the front exterior stairs by Mr. Hein and
Mr. Spurrell,” the Crown said. As the victim was running away he was sprayed with bear spray by Hein.
The shooting victim made it to a residence on King Street, knocking on a door seeking help. A 911 call was made.
The RCMP and EHS arrived but he succumbed to his injuries not long after.
An autopsy revealed the bullet had traversed his liver, causing a fatal injury.
After the shooting, James Spurrell's father Herbert Spurrell drove his son, Hein and two females away from the Chester Street residence.
James Spurrell had the firearm in his possession, which he disposed of. It has never been recovered.
The Crown read a victim impact statement from the victim's parents, whom she described as very private people.
“Absolutely nothing compares to losing a child. When you lose a child it takes a large part of your being and destroys it. It feels like we can't move on,” their statement said, saying the physical and mental pain of losing a child runs very deep.
“We can't get a hug. An ‘I love you.' A joke to make us smile,” they wrote.
“Whatever transpired that night, our son should not have died. To some people, our son was not the best person, but he treated us with respect and love. To us he meant everything.”
The Crown said Spurrell's pre-sentence report wasn't particularly favourable. It
pointed to a criminal lifestyle he relied on for sustenance. At the time of the shooting Spurrell, who has a lengthy criminal record, was prohibited from owning or possessing firearms.
“That's something we certainly see far too often – that lethal combination of drugs and weapons, which can result in activity which ultimately leads to someone losing their life,” MacDonald said.
The Crown concurred a more standard sentence for manslaughter is in the 8-to10-year range but after much negotiation, the Crown and defence settled on five years. The sentence took into account the lengthy time Spurrell spent in remand after his January 2022 arrest. Without that the sentence would have be closer to six-and-a-half years.
The defence agreed Spurrell's pre-sentence report was “not particularly positive.” Defence attorney Jonathan
Hughes said Spurrell was truly remorseful for his actions and would change things if he could.
The defence referred to the Crown's “frailties in the witness-heavy case” and also said by pleading guilty Spurrell had saved a tremendous amount of court time and resources, although Judge Burrill said he wasn't concerned by how much court time might have been needed.
Still, Burrill said he saw the joint recommendation as appropriate given all of the factors associated with the case.
But he stressed this was a tragic, preventable death.
“We can all imagine what it would be like to lose a child to such circumstances but we can never really understand,” the judge said. “The words of parents that are actually going through it, I think, helps bring home to everyone the immense tragedy that exists here.”