In closing arguments on Thursday in the manslaughter trial of Brayden Bushby, no one contested that the young man threw a trailer hitch at Barbara Kentner, striking her in the stomach and rupturing her bowel.
Where the Crown and defence differed was whether the traumatic blunt-force injury caused Ms. Kentner to die six months later, on July 4, 2017.
Mr. Bushby, who was 18 at the time, has pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and not guilty to manslaughter in the attack on the Anishinaabe woman in Thunder Bay. The trial is being conducted by a judge alone in the Ontario Superior Court.
Thunder Bay Crown attorney Andrew Sadler told the court in his closing arguments that all participants in the justice system are obliged to consider “historical, cultural and social space in which we operate" and to “check ourselves for our own biases, either conscious or unconscious.”
Mr. Sadler said the court has one decision to make.
“Was the injury Barbara Kentner sustained a significant contributing factor in her death?”
Mr. Sadler told the court the autopsy report from the forensic pathologist and supporting medical records used to determine the cause of Ms. Kentner’s death prove she would not have died when she did had she not been injured in the attack.
Mr. Sadler suggested Justice Helen Pierce hold the metal trailer hitch to feel for herself the weight of what he argued proves Mr. Bushby had “objective foresight” when he threw it at Ms. Kentner in January, 2017.
Toby Rose, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Ms. Kentner days after she died, told the court by Zoom on Tuesday that Ms. Kentner died of bronchopneumonia and acute chronic peritonitis related to complications of the ruptured small intestine sustained in the attack.
In his closing submission, defence counsel George Joseph said Ms. Kentner’s surgery to repair the ruptured bowel was successful, and her return to hospital weeks later was related to her end-stage liver disease.
Citing medical records from before and after the attack, Mr. Joseph went through symptoms of end-stage liver disease in notes made by Ms. Kentner’s doctor, including signs of cognitive impairment, buildup of fluid in the abdomen and jaundice. He cast doubt on whether the peritonitis was a result of traumatic bowel rupture. He pointed out that medical records from after she returned to hospital noted Ms. Kentner had spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, and there is no direct evidence of where it came from.
The manslaughter trial, which started on Monday in Thunder Bay, also heard from Ms. Kentner’s sister Melissa, who was walking with her the night of the attack. Transcripts of the testimony from two of Mr. Bushby’s friends, Jordan Crupi and Nathan Antoniszyn, who were in the car with him when he threw the trailer hitch, were also submitted as evidence. The testimony was from a preliminary hearing in 2018.
In a video statement to police from April, 2017, that was heard in court this week, Ms. Kentner tells police her sister didn’t want to call an ambulance right away and told her to go to the hospital in the morning. Melissa Kentner testified she tried taking her sister to the hospital, but she refused and wanted to go to sleep instead. Ms. Kentner went to hospital the next day and had surgery to repair a ruptured bowel.
Mr. Joseph told the court that while it is certain his client threw the trailer hitch and that it caused Ms. Kentner’s bowel to rupture, it’s not certain it led to her death.
“Mr. Bushby will be found guilty of aggravated assault and he will be punished,” Mr. Joseph said.
He also told the court the attack was not racially motivated, saying police asked Melissa Kentner if she believed they were targeted and she said, "No, just people being stupid.”
The transcripts from Mr. Crupi and Mr. Antoniszyn say they had been ice fishing earlier that day and that Mr. Bushby had been drinking a 26-ounze bottle of whiskey. Later that night, they were in a vehicle with another friend and Mr. Bushby, who was intoxicated to the point of getting “rowdy” as they drove around the city. His friends testified he wanted to “yell at hookers” and that he joked about throwing the trailer hitch through the window of a guy he didn’t get along with.
The two men said Mr. Bushby crawled out the car window and they heard a loud bang. They said they saw two people outside, and one of them was on the ground. By the time they turned around to check if anyone was hurt, no one was there, Mr. Crupi and Mr. Antoniszyn testified.
Justice Pierce is expected to deliver her verdict on Dec. 14.
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