Until two years ago, his biggest concerns were his social life and his shot at the National Hockey League. But for a young man who cannot be named under the terms of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, that life was swept away when he killed an opposing player in a high school rugby game and found himself at the centre of a criminal drama that drew national attention.
In May, he was convicted of manslaughter, for which he could have been sent to prison for decades. But yesterday, a judge handed down a sentence that let him walk out of the courthouse and return to the life he knew.
Ontario Judge Bruce Duncan said the youth killed his opponent during a "heated argument," and with "no premeditation." Judge Duncan sentenced him to a year's probation, 100 hours of community service, and anger management sessions with a psychiatrist.
"I have been presented with a mountain of material attesting to his good character," the judge said of the youth, now 18. "There is nothing about this offender that suggests anything but leniency."
The case, which may have far-reaching implications for competitive sports, began when Manny Castillo died after a rugby game between Mississauga's Lorne Park and Erindale secondary schools in 2007. Manny was captain of the Lorne Park team. The boy sentenced yesterday was a star player for Erindale. Both were 15 years old.
As the game ended, a confrontation ended with an act of violence that shocked onlookers: The Erindale player picked up Manny, flipped him upside down, and drove him into the ground in a move one witness described as a "pile-driver."
Yesterday, the judge said the act was shocking, but not intended to kill: "Although it was indisputably violent, the consequences went far beyond what might have been expected."
In his two-week trial, lawyers for the accused argued that Manny accepted the risks of the game when he stepped onto the field, and characterized the fatal tackle as self-defence.
But Judge Duncan rejected that argument, describing the tackle as an act of "retaliation" that cost Manny his life. "The playing field is not a criminal-law-free zone. The laws of the land apply in the same way as they do elsewhere."
Yesterday, Judge Duncan told the courtroom that sending the youth to prison would serve no function, but acknowledged the "tremendous loss" suffered by Manny's family.
Manny's father, Manuel Castillo, gave the courtroom an emotional account of the killing's impact on his family: "I have discovered over these last two years that time does not heal all wounds," he said. "In the days and months that have passed, there has been no relief from the loneliness that we feel. ... Manny is gone. His story ended in only his 15th year. We can't change that. I just wish that no parents ever have to feel this misery."