Mark Ryan called his mother six times the day he died.
Daily calls to family were just something the 35-year-old did, Ryan's mother Evelyn Bishop told a Yellowknife courtroom on Tuesday. Some of their last conversations on April 28, 2020, were about the new year and how it would be the "best year yet" of Ryan's life.
He died later that day after a fatal fight with Dean McNeely in the city's downtown.
McNeely, who had previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter, was sentenced to three years in jail on Tuesday in N.W.T. Supreme Court. The three years includes time served, meaning McNeely has four months left in custody.
The sentence was recommended by both prosecutor Brendan Green and defence counsel Jacqueline Leblanc.
In the Supreme Court, Justice Karan Shaner addressed the lawyers and family and friends in the courtroom saying several times that the law requires judges to accept joint submissions — unless the submission was considered "unhinged" which in this case, Justice Shaner said, it was not.
"I have great sympathy and empathy for you and your family members," Shaner said to Ryan's mother and sister in court.
"It is my hope in that this coming to an end that some closure is achieved."
A near accident, near murder
McNeely apologized to the Ryan family as he addressed the courtroom virtually during the sentencing.
"I'm really remorseful … it all happened so fast," McNeely said.
"I just want to move on to a better life."
The agreed statement of facts, read aloud in court in July, said the fight started when several people, including Ryan and McNeely, were hanging out at the Grayling Manor apartment building in downtown Yellowknife.
The fight was taken outside and shortly after McNeely returned saying Ryan had been "knocked out."
After some time, the group went to check on Ryan and brought him back into the apartment. When they eventually realized Ryan wasn't breathing, they called an ambulance.
It took a year and a half to charge McNeely after the fatal incident.
During the sentencing the prosecution brought up the Gladue report — a report designed to explain an Indigenous's person's history, family history and community history — which touched on McNeely's upbringing and intergenerational trauma.
Green said the violence in the fight with Ryan, went beyond what could be a consensual fight, but noted the criminal justice system is not a place for revenge.
McNeely's defence lawyer also brought up several mitigating factors for the sentencing submission, including the guilty plea.
She highlighted that McNeely has been working toward his GED and is taking a trapping program in the prison — in addition to being sober for a year.
"The Crown's case relied on circumstantial evidence," Leblanc said, noting the case was originally set for a jury trial with many witnesses who were hesitant to testify.
Leblanc described the fatal fight as "much more of an accident than intention to kill."
Victim won't see nieces and nephews grow up
At the start of the sentencing hearing, Green asked that a photo of the 35-year-old be entered into the case file.
Justice Shaner took the photo of Ryan and put it on her desk before the victim impact statements were read in the courtroom by Ryan's mother, Bishop, and virtually by his sister Shauna Mark.
In her victim impact's statement, Bishop said for 35 years, she had the privilege of being a mother to Ryan, describing her son as kind and a "friend who was already ready to help." Bishop shared that her son loved poetry — reading and writing — and also loved to travel.
"My heart was shattered after his untimely death," Bishop's statement read.
Shauna cried when sharing her statement, saying she is sad, lonely and angry — and lost the ability to trust others.
Ryan was not only a brother but also a son, friend, coworker and uncle to her children, Shauna said.
"[Mark] will not be able to watch my family grow."
The courtroom was emotional as Justice Shaner issued the three-year sentence.
Addressing Ryan's mother and sister, Shaner said: "Thank you for the courage to come here today."