Christopher Van Camp’s mother is “very satisfied” with the sentence handed down to the man who killed her son.
Lauren Laithwaite, who attended the trial and delivered a tearful victim impact statement during sentencing arguments last week, spoke to the Herald Friday to reflect on the outcome of the case.
Tyler Vandewater was sentenced to life in prison without parole eligibility for 16 years during his sentencing on May 15. Vandewater was convicted earlier this year of second-degree murder in what Justice B. Scherman described as a “brutal” and “unprovoked” attack on his then-cellmate, who had only returned to the prison hours earlier. Vandewater stabbed, punched and stomped on Van Camp, leaving him with over 60 wounds to his front and back, concentrated around his head and neck.
Vandewater argued he acted in self-defence, but Scherman poked several holes in his story.
During the sentencing hearing, Laithwaite said nothing could have prepared her for what she heard during the trial and described every day since his death as a “horrible nightmare.”
The Crown had asked for 16-18 years. The defence argued for 14-16, urging Scherman to leave a carrot for Vandewater that he might be able to apply for parole one day if he can become a changed man.
“I’m not one who believes in throwing away the key on people,” she said.
“I do believe that if you are able to wake up out of that consciousness that he lives by right now, that if he isn’t the same person in 16 years and is able to feel remorse and move on, then I have no problem with that.
“I do believe people change. I believed in my own son that way — so why wouldn’t I believe in other people?”
While it was hard, Laithwaite was glad for an opportunity to address the court and speak to the kind of person her son was.
“People love to make up stories or come to their own conclusions as to what it means to be in jail or what kind of person you must be,” she said.
She was pleased Scherman indicated that Van Camp did not have a history of violence and was not part of the attack that left him dead in his cell that night.
“It was important for me to talk about him,” Laithwaite said.
The other thing Laithwaite insisted was that Vandewater didn’t show remorse. If he did, she said, he would have told the truth.
Addressing the court prior to receiving his sentence, Vandewater said he did feel remorse and that he saw Van Camp as a friend. He said it hurt him that it happened and that he truly feels sorry for the family and what they have to go through.
“I think Tyler was responding directly back to me regarding what I had to say about him and his remorse, or lack of. I’m not one to be able to say whether he’s sincere or not,” she said.
“Perhaps, in his own world, and in his own mind, he was thoughtful about Christopher. If either of them thought that the other was going to do that, that night, would they have gone into the cell together?”
Laithwaite couldn’t imagine the violence, fear and anger it would take to inflict that sort of violence. She said Vandewater’s history of violent offences show he has impulse control and rage issues, and that he could do anything to protect himself.
But when it comes to his apology, she accepts it as it’s coming out of his mouth, but doesn’t accept that it’s completely sincere.
“I think he’s sorry because he just got (life) with 16 years for eligibility. I think a lot of this is because he’s in the position he is,” she said.
“I don’t think a person who is capable of feeling that much compassion and empathy would have ever been able to (commit that act) in the first place.”
Civil suit moving forward
While Vandewater’s life sentence has begun, his lawyer, Brian Pfefferle, issued a notice of appeal. Laithwaite, though, said she’s not concerned. She said she’s glad the criminal trial is behind her.
What she still has to deal with is her civil suit. Laithwaite has issued a lawsuit relating to her son’s arrest and imprisonment immediately prior to his death. Van Camp was arrested in the hospital after receiving treatment for a drug overdose. He was in a coma for five days.
Laithwaite contends Canada’s Good Samaritan laws, which protect people reporting drug overdoses from criminal prosecution so they’re not afraid to ask for help, should have applied to her son. She also contends that in his weakened state, he shouldn’t have been placed back into maximum security to double-bunk with an inmate who had a history of violent offences.
She got a bit of unexpected support during the sentencing from an unexpected source — Pfefferle.
Pfefferle, in his closing submissions, said the argument that Van Camp shouldn’t have been arrested in the first place is “legitimate” in his perspective.
“To have that on the record is pretty important to me,” Laithwaite said, adding she was surprised Pfefferle brought it up.
“It can’t hurt. To have it on the record within a court case, I think, is a good thing for me and for others.”
CSC and the Calgary Police have denied Laithwaite’s claims in their defence. Her allegations have yet to be tested in court as the case is ongoing.