Ten-year sentence handed down for manslaughter in prison riot

This photo from the Correctional Investigator's report shows the aftermath of last year's deadly riot at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.

A ten-year sentence has been handed down to a man who pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing Jason Bird during a 2016 riot at Saskatchewan Penitentiary.

Kelfort Watatech pleaded guilty to manslaughter on May 2. He was serving a sentence of eight and a half years for manslaughter when the incident occurred. The new sentence will be served consecutively to his current prison term.

Justice Labach delivered his written sentencing decision on June 11.

The defence had asked for a seven-year sentence. Lawyer Brian Pfefferle cited the early guilty plea, Gladue factors and Watatech’s relatively young age — 25 when the incident occurred — as mitigating factors. Watatech was adamant that he wanted to take responsibility for the killing, and didn’t want to blame it on his personal circumstances.

The Crown had asked for ten years, with prosecutor John Morall calling the killing “a cowardly act” where several inmates beat up a helpless victim.

According to the facts of the case, Watatech was one of “several” inmates who went into Bird’s cell and set upon him. Bird was viciously beaten and repeatedly stabbed; his cause of death was blunt force trauma to his head and stab wounds to his chest.

Bird was not participating in the riot. Labach wrote. He was not arguing with anyone. There was no evidence that Bird had any altercations or issues with the people who entered his cell. There was no evidence the accused was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

 “The attack was violent, vicious and relentless,” Labach wrote.

“It was five inmates swarming one in closed quarters.”

Labach wrote that Bird had injuries to his head, neck, chest and back and that there was a lot of blood on the walls and floor of the cell. Watatech stabbed the victim multiple times, Labach said.

“Considering the uncontested information placed before me, the accused’s responsibility for the killing of Mr. Bird was very significant,” Labach wrote.

“The accused and others seized an opportunity to perpetrate a brutal, unprovoked and senseless act of violence on an unsuspecting victim, who by all accounts was minding his own business and staying in his cell, while all hell was breaking loose in the penitentiary.”

Labach noted that Watatech has a lengthy conviction for someone who is only 28.

“He has spent more of his adult life in jail than out of jail,” Labach wrote.

“Besides the guilty plea he entered, he expressed no remorse for what he did to Mr. bird or the grief he caused Mr. Bird’s family.”

Four others remain charged in Bird’s death. Their trials have been set for October 2019.