Lindsey Coyle, a former nurse at La Verendrye General Hospital, was sentenced to two years imprisonment by Justice Pieter Joubert at the Fort Frances court yesterday.
Coyle pleaded guilty to Criminal Negligence Causing Death in November of 2022. The sentence was handed down just over nine years since the death of Hermina Fletcher on Jan. 4, 2015.
The sentencing was not without some drama on Tuesday as Justice Joubert said after some thought he would prefer to issue a written judgement rather than to simply give oral reasons for the sentence. There was a tense moment in the courtroom as the Crown and defense attorneys discussed whether they’d prefer to have the oral judgement made in court that day or wait for the full written reasons some time in February.
The family of Hermina Fletcher were visibly relieved when the decision was made to have the oral judgement released.
According to the agreed statement of facts in Coyle’s plea, she was employed as a registered practical nurse at La Verendrye Hospital when she altered Hermina Fletcher’s chart so she could steal morphine for her own personal use. As a result of the changed report, which was left with the increased dosage, Fletcher received two 10 milligram doses of morphine the evening of January 3, 2015.
During the sentencing hearing in August, Coyle’s defense lawyer Barry Sinder argued for a suspended sentence, saying that if Coyle was to violate the terms of the suspended sentence she could be resentenced to jail time. Crown Prosecutor David Kirk argued jail time during the sentencing hearing.
Joubert referred to the principles of denunciation and deterrence as he gave the oral judgement.
“In this case… I have come to the conclusion that it is not appropriate to sentence Ms. Coyle to a three-year suspended sentence,” he said. “Doing so in this case would not give effect to the very serious consequences of the events and the aggravating features in this case.”
Joubert regretted that sending someone to be incarcerated is not ideal but the aggravating circumstances led him to agree with the Crown.
“I have struggled with this,” Joubert said. “It is a terrible thing to sentence a member of the community to imprisonment. However, I agree with cat Crown Counsel that there is a heightened moral blameworthiness in this case, one that along with other aggravating circumstances, including the vulnerable nature of the victim, and the impact of her family call for a far more severe sentence.”
Joubert says he believes the sentence is fitting for the crime.
“In the end, the court must always remain balanced. Considering all of the objectives, principles and factors in sentencing. I find that a fit and proper sentence in this case is a sentence going forward of two years imprisonment for the criminal negligence causing death count. In light of this I am prepared to sentence Ms. Coyle with respect to the breach count to a suspended sentence with probation.”
Coyle also pleaded guilty to a charge of failure to comply with a court order that was broken when Coyle was discovered to be under the influence of alcohol with her children in her care.
Coyle and her family and supporters were visibly emotional as the sentence of incarceration was handed down.
Joubert added that the terms may seem tough to the family but he believes the sentence a just one.
“It may appear to Ms. Coyle and to those who support her that the sentence that I am imposing is harsh,”Joubert said. “I view this sentence to take into consideration the mitigating factors, and restorative justice considerations, as well as the personal circumstances of Ms. Coyle while both pass during the proceedings and present. Without those (circumstances) present, the sentence in my view ought to have been higher.”
Members of Fletcher’s family appeared relieved that the nearly 10 year ordeal since the death of their family member was over.
In a statement released on behalf of Melvin Fletcher Jr. and and Melissa Fletcher by their lawyer Douglas Judson the family says they appreciate the judge’s decision.
“We appreciate that Justice Joubert recognized the gravity of Ms. Coyle’s actions, the numerous aggravating factors which called for her imprisonment, and the need for this sentence to serve as public denunciation of her actions and deterrence of such grave and irresponsible misconduct by a licensed healthcare professional.
“We also appreciated hearing in court today that His Honour recognized the broader public and community concerns that this case has raised about the safety of vulnerable persons in our local hospital.”
The written reasons for the decision are expected to be released in February giving more detail into the judge’s decision.