Warning: Article contains details that may be distressing for some readers.
On Red Dress Day, May 5, a guilty verdict was handed down to Ryan Jake Applegarth at the Wetaskiwin Court of King’s Bench for the killing of a young Indigenous Ponoka woman.
Chantelle Firingstoney, 26, died of severe injuries, including 12 broken ribs and a liver laceration that caused internal bleeding, in her residence on Nov. 5, 2020.
There were intakes of breath and sighs of relief from the gallery as the verdict was read, while the convicted showed no visible reaction.
About 20 people, mostly women dressed in red T-shirts with the words “Justice for Chantelle Firingstoney,” attended court to hear the ruling. There were embraces and tears outside the courtroom, and cheers on the steps outside the building following the verdict.
The women sang a song to honour Firingstoney.
“There was justice for my baby today,” said Leanne Firingstoney, Chantelle’s mother, adding Chantelle can now rest and be at peace.
The four-day judge alone trial concluded Applegarth was responsible for her death, as he was the only other adult in the residence at the time, as Justice E. Funk didn’t find other theories proposed by the defence to be credible.
The court heard that when EMT’s arrived, they worked on the victim, a mother of four, for 45 minutes but were unable to revive her. She had cuts and bruises on her face and chest.
The dispatcher who received the call stated during the trial that Applegarth said his girlfriend wasn’t waking up, but he’d said nothing about assaulting her.
Although Applegarth called 911, Funk stated that didn’t assist his case when it came to his state of mind at the time of the assault.
When police arrived, they found Applegarth in a bedroom. He appeared to have fresh scratches. Photos were taken of his clothes.
An autopsy the next day found that Chantelle had multiple blunt force traumas to both sides of her face, neck and torso, as well as fractures on both sides of her ribs and a tear behind one ear. The liver laceration had caused a significant amount of blood to fill her abdomen.
The medical examiner ruled the dual cause of death as loss of blood as well as a resulting loss of oxygen due to her injuries. He also testified her breathing may have been further laboured due to her high level of alcohol intoxication.
The defence had argued two alternative scenarios to explain Chantelle’s injuries, saying she may have been hit by a car, or she could have been assaulted by someone else before arriving home.
While the medical examiner couldn’t rule out the liver laceration being caused by a collision with a vehicle, the victim didn’t have any secondary injuries consistent with a vehicle collision, such as scrapes to the hands or face, or any gravel, glass or other typical debris in her hands or face.
Although two intoxicated men had been seen in the vicinity a half hour before her death, the judge said she didn’t find the time frame approximate or the theory compelling.
Funk also concluded Chantelle would not have been able to walk any significant distance given her injuries and level of intoxication, without stumbling or leaving any blood outside of the residence.
It was noted no blood was found on the stairs, railing or landing of the residence, or on a baby gate before the entrance to the dwelling. The baby gate was still in place when police arrived.
The justice stated the Crown’s case was largely circumstantial, as there were no credible witnesses to the altercation and no physical evidence of Chantelle’s DNA on Applegarth’s hands or shoes.
However, Funk said she could conclude from photo evidence that acts of violence had taken place in multiple locations inside of the residence, citing blood with hair attached to it on a wall, a pot of mashed potatoes thrown, leaving a hole in a wall, and DNA on a laundry hamper.
The justice said it was likely both the pot and the hamper had been used as weapons and the victim had sustained a “brutal, prolonged attack” involving several objects.
She also noted there was evidence some of Chantelle’s injuries were likely sustained while she was lying down, and there was no evidence Applegarth had been intoxicated at the time of the assault.
Text messages from the deceased entered into evidence during the trial, to speak to the victim’s state of mind, showed she was “fearful and torn” about her relationship.
Chantelle had texted about not being happy anymore and wanting to go to a shelter.
She’d also said she wanted to remove herself as a surety for Applegarth, which would have meant he’d go back to jail. At the time, Applegarth was facing a murder charge for homicide in Wetaskiwin earlier that year.
While the court heard no evidence Applegarth was aware of the victim’s wish to leave or remove the surety, the justice said it could have been a motive for the assault if he knew.
Funk concluded she was satisfied that due to the severity of the injuries and evident violence, that Applegarth had sufficient intent to cause injury or death, or recklessness to cause injury or death, to justify a second-degree murder conviction rather than manslaughter.
The next court date to schedule the sentencing was set for May 23, although it was noted that due to summer scheduling, the sentencing would likely not be until the fall.
Applegarth is currently serving time for another homicide.
On Nov. 3, 2022, He was sentenced to eight years, minus three-and-a-half years served, for the manslaughter of Jamison Samuel Louis.