Mother, stepfather plead guilty to manslaughter in death of Port Alberni boy

Parents guilty in boy's death

Warning: This story contains details about the abuse of a child.

The mother and stepfather of a six-year-old Port Alberni boy have pleaded guilty to manslaughter in his suspicious death five years ago.

Rykel Charleson, 29, and Mitchell Frank, 30, were initially charged with the first-degree murder of Dontay Patrick Lucas on March 13, 2018. On Monday, they pleaded guilty to the lesser included offence of manslaughter in the death of the young boy, who was of Hesquiaht descent.

An agreed statement of fact revealed in horrifying detail how Dontay was brutalized by his mother and stepfather for a period of four months.

Dontay had been removed from his mother at birth and spent most of his childhood in foster care, according to the document, read into the court record by Crown prosecutor Kimberly Henders Miller.

On Nov. 17, 2017, Dontay was transitioned back into the care of his mother and stepfather. They lived in a three-level townhouse in Port Alberni with Dontay’s sisters, ages one and seven, and his aunt, age nine.

From December 2017 until his death, Dontay’s attendance at school decreased dramatically, said Henders Miller.

During this period, school staff noticed injuries on the boy and Charleson “reduced his exposure to others so that the visible injuries and bruises she and Frank inflicted could not be observed,” said Henders Miller.

Charleson and Frank abused Dontay, biting him, hitting him, making him run up and down the stairs and forcing him to hang from his knees from the top of the door until he fell, said Henders Miller.

On Dec. 9, 2017, a video was taken of Dontay crawling up the stairs from the main floor.

On Feb. 27, 2018, a video shows Dontay in a “plank” position with a cloth in his mouth.

“He is crying hysterically in the video and the accused, Charleson, can be heard sometimes laughing,” said Henders Miller. “There is an injury visible on the corner of his right eye.”

Between March 9 and 13, 2018, the abuse continued, said the prosecutor.

Charleson and Frank deprived Dontay of sleep, food and water, she said.

“He was covered with abrasions and bruises over his face, head, neck, torso and extremities.”

On Friday, March 9, Dontay was kept home from school. A photo was taken of him that morning hanging by his knees from the top door leading to the basement.

Dontay was also kept home from school on Monday, March 12. Photos taken in the late afternoon show Dontay with visible bruises on his chest and eyes.

In the early hours of March 13, Dontay had a seizure caused by blunt force injuries to his brain. The two accused tried to treat Dontay’s seizure by putting him in the shower.

Charleson texted her mother several times asking for help. Her mother arrived at 9:22 a.m. and called for an ambulance.

“She advised that her grandson had fallen down the stairs and was not breathing,” said Henders Miller. “At the end of the call, she was heard to ask: ‘When did you notice he was like this?’ Charleston replied: ‘About 3 a.m.’ ”

First responders arrived at 9:28 a.m. but were not able to revive Dontay. The boy was transported to the hospital and pronounced dead. The physician noted extensive bruising on his body that was not consistent with a fall down the stairs, said Henders Miller.

Dontay also had several blunt force trauma injuries to his head and was suffering from multiple respiratory viruses and bacterial infections. Both the blunt force head trauma and the respiratory illness were severe, said Henders Miller.

The cause of death was determined to be severe blunt force head trauma.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Tammen has ordered the preparation of a Gladue report for both offenders to assist at their sentencing in mid-May. Gladue reports help judges consider the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders.

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