Sheldon Hibbs sentenced to 7 years for manslaughter

On Thursday afternoon in a nearly empty courtroom, Sheldon Hibbs was sentenced to seven years in prison for the death of Michael King.
Sheldon Hibbs confers with lawyer Jason Edwards after being sentenced to seven years in prison for the death of Michael King. (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC)

Sheldon Hibbs has been sentenced to seven years in jail for manslaughter in the death of Michael King.

Justice Vikas Khaladkar gave his decision at Supreme Court in St. John's late Thursday afternoon, after considering sentencing submissions delivered earlier this month.

In a nearly empty courtroom, Hibbs, 29, stared stoically straight ahead for most of his court appearance, but when he heard his sentence, his mouth opened slightly a few times before closing into a frown.

Hibbs pleaded guilty in March to manslaughter, accepting a plea deal that saw his charge downgraded from second-degree murder in King's death.

King's body was discovered on a trail between Waterford Valley High School and Holbrook Avenue in the west end of St. John's on May 30, 2021.

During sentencing submissions earlier this month, HIbb's lawyer Jason Edwards said a four- to six-year prison sentence would be appropriate, given the time his client had already spent in the deteriorating prison.

Crown attorney Ashley Targett sought a seven- to nine-year sentence and listed a number of aggravating factors, including the level of violence of the crime as well as Hibbs's attempts to cover it up and the fact he fled the province.

The sentence set by Khaladkar is in line with that the Crown sought.

"Manslaughter has a wide range, depending on circumstances. So I think that seven years is kind of what we anticipated would fall within the range we were looking for," Targett told CBC News after the sentencing.

Edwards declined an interview.

Mitigating factors

Khaladkar said he considered a number of factors in determining an appropriate sentence, including the seriousness of the offence and the sentence's role as a deterrent to future crimes.

Among the aggravating factors that led to his decision: the beating that led to King's death was a prolonged attack, and Hibbs didn't offer assistance and then tried to conceal the crime.

Mitigating factors that Khaladkar said he took into consideration included Hibbs's lack of prior criminal history, mental health problems and remorse that the judge believes is sincere.

For years, Khaladkar said, Hibbs self-medicated with substances and alcohol, addictions that are now being treated since he entered prison. If Hibbs had received treatment as a teenager, he said, King might not have died and Hibbs would not be facing years in prison.

Sheldon Hibbs, waiting in court prior to hearing his seven year sentence, has been in custody since March 2022.
Hibbs, seen here awaiting his sentence, has been in custody since March 2022. (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC News)

He noted Hibbs was only 27 at the time of the offence and said he hopes Hibbs will turn his life around and become an upstanding citizen.

Earlier this month Hibbs told the court during sentencing submissions that he was sorry for King's death.

If he'd been sober and in a sound state of mind, the death wouldn't have happened, he said.

"I will live with this for the rest of my life," said Hibbs, adding he intends to remain sober.

HMP conditions a factor

In sentencing arguments earlier this month, Edwards argued prison conditions at Her Majesty's Penitentiary — which he described as a "hellhole" — should factor into his client's sentence.

"We should be ashamed of how HMP treats people and how we've allowed it," he told the court earlier this month.

"Inmates should not be subjected to mould. The heat. Cold. Rodent infestations. They should not be bitten by rodents."

Khaladkar did agree to give Hibbs 1.75 days' credit for every one day in custody, amounting to 1,467 days, granted in part due to conditions at Her Majesty's Penitentiary. With credit for time served, he has three years remaining on his sentence.

Conclusion reached

In February 2022, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary charged Hibbs with second-degree murder and issued a Canada-wide arrest warrant. He was eventually located in Calgary.

Documents obtained through access-to-information requests revealed the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary chartered a $91,000 flight from Calgary to return Hibbs to N.L., saying at the time he was banned from commercial flights.

In an agreed statement of facts read in court earlier this month, Hibbs said he had been walking along the path when he met King, who had already been drinking, and invited him to join him.

Police maintain an active presence in a wooded area on Monday after human remains were found in a part of Waterford Valley, which police are now treating as a suspicious death investigation.
King's body was found on a trail in Waterford Valley in St. John's. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

After drinking together, they sat on the ground, and King got on top of Hibbs, trying to kiss him and touch his penis. That was when Hibbs "snapped," said Targett.

Findings from King's autopsy detailed King's extensive injuries, including rib fractures, multiple fractures, collapsed lungs, small skull fracture and hemorrhage to the brain, as well as multiple blunt force injuries to the face and head. The cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries.

Hibbs also said he'd been sexually assaulted in the past.

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