Mother, stepfather sentenced to 15 years in prison for horrific death of 6-year-old son

A woman holds a photo of Dontay Lucas outside the Port Alberni courthouse on Thursday, May 16, 2024, ahead of sentencing in the Hesquiat boy's manslaughter case.  (Claire Palmer/CBC - image credit)
A woman holds a photo of Dontay Lucas outside the Port Alberni courthouse on Thursday, May 16, 2024, ahead of sentencing in the Hesquiat boy's manslaughter case. (Claire Palmer/CBC - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains details of violence and child abuse.

The mother and stepfather of deceased Hesquiat boy Dontay Lucas were both sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison for manslaughter in the disturbing killing of the six-year-old in 2018.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Tammen delivered the decision to a packed and emotional courtroom filled with the Lucas family, friends and supporters wearing stickers reading "Dontay Patrick Lucas, 2012-2018, gone but not forgotten."

Accused Rykel Frank (née Charleson) and Mitchell Frank sat silently in leg shackles: Charleson in the prisoner's box wearing a white T-shirt and black sweatpants; Frank, in an orange sweatshirt and orange pants, sitting just outside the prisoner's box.

After the sentence was delivered, family members came to the front of the courtroom to address the accused in a gesture of forgiveness.

"We, your family, forgive you," said Judy Campbell. "In order to let our little man rest, we forgive you."

Outside the courthouse, Dontay's biological father expressed relief.

"A lot of weight has been lifted off my shoulders," said Patrick Lucas. "Our healers gave us a beautiful message that my boy is set free now. He can rest in peace."

Submitted by Patrick Lucas
Submitted by Patrick Lucas

The agreed statement of facts details the horrific abuse Dontay endured in the months leading up to his death, including being beaten, bitten, deprived of food, water and sleep, and forced to hang by his knees from the top of a door until he fell.

Pathologists found bruises and abrasions too numerous to list along with several areas of blunt-force trauma to the head. The official cause of death was blunt-force trauma to the head, but it was also noted he had severe respiratory infection.

Both Crown and the defence asked for a 15-year sentence in a joint submission.

Tammen agreed, citing the serious nature of the crime, the prolonged abuse and cruelty shown by the couple, and the vulnerability of a young person in a relationship of trust.

He also spoke of "powerful Gladue factors" in making his decision. Gladue is a Supreme Court of Canada decision which requires judges to pay "particular attention" to the circumstances of Indigenous offenders to achieve a "truly fit and proper sentence."

Tammen said the legacy of colonialism and the lasting impact of residential schools are factors for both Charleson, a member of the Hesquiat First Nation, and Frank, a member of the Ahousaht First Nation.

The court heard how both came from broken homes and difficult childhoods, and struggled with substance-use addictions.

Dontay was one of four children the couple was caring for at the time of his death. He was removed from a foster home and placed with his mother and stepfather only four months before he was killed.

The decision to reunite him with his mother was overseen by Usma Nuu-chah-nulth Family and Child Services, an agency delegated by the Ministry of Children and Family Development to provide guardianship of Indigenous children in care.

Lucas family spokesperson Graham Hughes said despite the closure that comes with sentencing, questions remain about why Dontay was so badly failed by the systems that were supposed to take care of him.

"Dontay's death and the tortures that he went through were no secret," said Hughes. "Where did the failures happen and how did they happen are the big questions we have right now for the province and the ministry."

Given credit for time served, Charleson and Frank will spend the next 12 years in federal prison.

In a statement, Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council said Dontay's death has had "a profound and long-lasting impact on the Nuu-chah-nulth communities."