It will be 18 years before Ryan Jake Applegarth, 31, can apply for parole, as he serves a life sentence for the second degree murder of a young Ponoka mother in 2020.
As the conviction comes with an automatic life sentence, the only thing for the court to determine at sentencing, held on Jan. 26, 2024, at the Wetaskiwin Court of King’s Bench, was the period before Applegarth would become eligible to apply for parole.
On Nov. 5, 2020, Chantelle Firingstoney, 26, was declared deceased at her home in Ponoka, having sustained severe injuries. Applegarth was found guilty on May 5, 2023.
The four-day judge alone trial concluded Applegarth was responsible for her death, as he was the only other adult in the residence at the time.
Justice E. Funk heard sentencing submissions from the defence and Crown, as well as victim impact statements.
The Crown was seeking 16 to 18 years and the defence was asking for 12 to 14. Justice Funk ultimately decided on 18 years.
Crown prosecutor Jeff Rudiak argued there were several aggravating factors in the nature and circumstances of the offence that warranted a longer period before release into the public.
Rudiak said sentencing must consider abuse of vulnerable persons, and Firingstoney, as an Aboriginal woman and the intimate partner of Applegarth, attacked in her own home, fell under that category.
He stated Firingstoney suffered “gratuitous violence,” with 47 individual wounds, which the medical examiner had testified had been sustained from at least 30 separate blows.
“She was beat head to toe,” said Rudiak. “She should (have felt) safe in her own home.”
Other aggravating factors were the murder occurred when Applegarth was out on bail for a previous homicide charge, and Firingstoney was his surety, the presence of innocent bystanders, abuse of trust, evidence of previous abuse, and a criminal record with numerous assault convictions.
It was stated the Gladue report had few details and remained largely the same as the one filed in 2022.
Gladue reports outline an Indigenous offender’s experiences as an Indigenous person. Supreme Court has ruled Gladue factors must be considered when sentencing.
Defence counsel Kenneth Sockett said it was determined while Applegarth didn’t intend to cause Firingstoney’s death, he was reckless about the possibility of causing bodily harm and if death may ensue.
However, he argued it should be considered that Applegarth got a neighbour for help, called for an ambulance and didn’t “run away.”
He said Applegarth wasn’t the “most communicative person” and he suspected that was why the Gladue report wasn’t more detailed, as Applegarth didn’t like “family issues aired in public.”
Sockett noted Applegarth’s mother lost custody of him for a time, and the group home he was at “wasn’t a nice place.”
Applegarth is a band member of Samson Cree Nation. He grew up in and outside of the community.
Sockett added while it wasn’t in the report, alcoholism and poverty are “all and sundry” on the First Nation.
While the minimum ineligibility period for a second degree murder conviction is 10 years, Sockett said he realized it wasn’t realistic to ask for that in this case, but he disagreed with the Crown’s submission.
He added Applegarth was “very upset” about the result of his actions and that he “acknowledges his responsibility in this affair.”
Sockett said while the seriousness of the offence couldn’t be “played down,” Applegarth is a “young man who at some point wants to start his life over again.”
In total, seven victim impact statements were submitted, including from several family members as well as community impact statements given by Ponoka Mayor Kevin Ferguson and community court worker Luci Johnson.
Several Ponoka RCMP officers were also in attendance at the hearing.
A statement prepared by Lydia Hunter on behalf of her sister, the late Leanne Firingstoney, the victim’s mother, said Leanne died of grief.
The impact statement was partially written by Leanne before her passing, and was completed with excerpts from her journal entries that detailed her struggles after first losing a daughter to an apparent suicide on Nov. 5, 2018, and then Chantelle exactly two years later.
Leanne wrote, “No woman deserves any kind of violence … How did my late daughters end up dead?”
In her own statement, Hunter said Leanne had a minor surgery after the trial back in May, 2023, but never recovered, and Hunter felt she “died of a broken heart.”
“In the end, she had no more strength to carry on … He robbed us of a beautiful life in this dark world.”
Childhood friend Crystal Saskatchewan said Firingstoney was a good mother who put her children’s needs first.
“All she wanted to be was the best mother and she was,” said Saskatchewan. “She tried so hard to to stay sober, but her mental state always held her back. When it did, it killed her inside.”
Firingstoney had completed rehab and was “so proud of herself,” said Saskatchewan.
With several aggravating factors in the case, no admitted issues with addictions and no diagnosed mental illness, Funk concluded there were no mitigating factors.
In her oral decision, Funk said it was “difficult” to determine how circumstances in Applegarth’s childhood would have brought him to where he was now, but any factors that may have lowered his moral culpability were largely deflected by the gravity of the offence, which she called a “grotesque act of violence.”
Funk said there was evidence at least some of the blows occurred when Chantelle was lying down and was less able, or unable to defend herself or escape.
Applegarth was either “incapable or unwilling to control his anger” and “He did not care if death ensued until it was too late,” said Funk.
“(Now there is) one more Cree woman who will not be able to grow old or raise her children.”
When asked if he wanted to say anything, Applegarth only said “no,” and sat back down.
Funk said she suspected there was “much more” to his personal history than was included in his Gladue report and said she “sincerely hopes” he takes advantage of programs available to him while he’s incarcerated.
Applegarth was also given a DNA order and a lifetime firearms prohibition.
“I’m just happy justice was actually served for a Native woman,” said Saskatchewan outside of the courthouse, adding she was happy for Chantelle and Leanne.
“I’m happy I was here for both of them … but it’s not going to bring her back — that’s the hard part.”
A sweat is being held on Feb. 8, at 12 p.m. for the family and friends of Chantelle and the community.
Applegarth is currently serving an eight-year sentence (minus time already served) for the manslaughter of Jamison Samuel Louis. He was sentenced on Nov. 3, 2022.
Louis was fatally shot at a residence in Wetaskiwin on Jan. 3, 2020.