The family of Jeffery Kraft of Ponoka say they can finally mourn and start to heal after a sentence was passed on Jan. 20, 2022, for his homicide over two years ago.
“The day of sentencing, after we heard Judge Hunter’s sentence, it was like we could breathe. We could finally breathe,” said Caitlin Kraft, Jeff’s sister.
Kraft died in Lacombe on Dec., 15, 2019, from a gunshot wound to the chest after a confrontation over an alleged debt. Tyler John Campbell pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a firearm in November, 2020. A second accomplice was discharged by the Crown.
The Crown and defence submitted a joint submission last February, recommending a sentence of seven years for Campbell. That submission was rejected by Hon. Judge Jim Hunter.
Campbell then had the option to withdraw his guilty plea. Campbell sought to withdraw his plea, but was rejected by a different judge in October, 2021.
Hunter rejected the same sentence submission two other times before ultimately handing down a jail sentence of 11 years and four months.
Campbell has served 642 days in custody, leaving about nine years and two months on his sentence.
“It’s a relief (that it’s over), but the outcome … wish it would have been better. 11 years is better than seven,” said Allen Kraft, Jeff’s father. “I’m glad that Judge Hunter stuck to his guns. I give him a lot of credit.”
“No amount of time will ever be enough,” said Caitlin.
According to the Krafts, Hunter stated during his sentencing that he didn’t believe Jeff’s death was a random accident.
“(Hunter) felt that he was set up. There was some planning. It wasn’t just a random act. They planned what they were going to do,” said Caitlin.
According to the agreed statement of facts previously read in court, Kraft was driven to a rural road near Lacombe on the night he was killed. When they arrived, the female driver got out and opened the trunk. Campbell got out of the trunk and confronted Kraft with a 12-gauge shotgun. The gun went off and Kraft was fatally hit in the chest at close range.
At the court date on Nov. 16, 2021, defence lawyer Rod Clark stated that while Campbell’s “half-baked” plan to try to get money from Kraft was criminal, the gun went off accidentally and he did not intend to shoot Kraft.
Caitlin said the family felt the judge had the victims in mind, rather than the perpetrator, with his sentencing decision.
The family made victim impact statements, for the second time, at a court date in November.
“I felt that I was more heard the second time around than the first,” said Caitlin.
In her statement, Caitlin said the psychological damage to her children will last far longer than any prison sentence Campbell would receive, adding that Campbell took her sibling and her best friend from her.
Allen asked Campbell how he could ever sleep at night knowing he had killed a young man for no reason.
Kraft’s mother, Carrie Cocke, expressed that she no longer cared if she lived or died, and now had nothing because of Campbell.
Every year on his birthday, Jan. 13, the Krafts have a dinner of Jeff’s favourite foods. On the anniversary of his death, they go out to the cross they placed for him in Lacombe County, visit the cemetery and release balloons.
He would have been 23 this year.
The Krafts are considering having some kind of celebration of life for Jeff this summer with family and friends.
“We as a family can actually start to properly process without having to relive court dates, every hearing,” said Caitlin.
The Krafts are concerned, however, that given the longer sentence, Campbell may choose to appeal the conviction.
An applicant can file a Notice of Appeal within 30 days of their conviction. However, they can only appeal the decision on the grounds of an error about the facts surrounding the action, or an error in how the law was applied in the action. (albertacourts.ca)
“I want people to remember Jeff for the man that he was, not for the crime that happened,” said Caitlin.
Caitlin and Allen said Jeff had the greatest smile, was smart, caring and generous and he will be forever missed by his family.
“It hasn’t gotten easier … we’re just starting to live with him not being around,” said Caitlin. “I still want to pick up the phone and call him. (I still wait) for his truck to pull up.”
– With files from Paul Cowley, Red Deer Advocate