Families react to Brandon Cruickshank guilty pleas

Update: Family members of murderer Brandon Cruickshank and victim Jimmy Armillotta react to the March. 5 sentencing.

Former Revelstoke resident Brandon Cruickshank

[Editor’s note: This is an updated version of our breaking news story first published at revelstoketimesreview.com on March 5. This story contains reaction from parties involved in the criminal trial. The updated portions are at the end of the story following the “updated story” notation.]

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Warning: This story contains descriptions of violence and coarse language. Reader discretion is advised.

Former Revelstoke resident Brandon Cruickshank pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in an Alberta courtroom on Monday, March 5.

The charges stem from an Oct. 14, 2010 shooting on a rural property near Bonnyville, Alberta that left two men dead. Jimmy Armillotta, 27, of Revelstoke and Fil Kedzior, 21, who was a resident of nearby Bonnyville, were found dead on the scene after a neighbour reported a man with a gun outside the remote property in the early morning hours.

Brandon Cruickshank was soon arrested and charged with the murders.

Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice A.W. Germain sentenced Brandon Cruickshank to two concurrent life sentences. Cruickshank will not be able to apply for parole for 15 years and also received a lifetime firearms ban.

Cruickshank had been on trial for two counts of first degree murder. Crown Prosecutor for Alberta Justice Randy Brandt told the Times Review that the prosecution and defence had come to an agreement prior to the murder trial, which had been scheduled for March 5–9.

In a joint submission, the prosecution and defence agreed Cruickshank would plead guilty on lesser second-degree murder charges with a minimum life sentence and a range of 15 to 17 years before Cruickshank could apply for parole. Justice Germain opted for the 15-year option.

During the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench appearance in St. Paul, Alberta, a total of eight victim impact statements were read, including from Jimmy Armillotta’s parents James and Brenda, who read them in person in court.

At the Mar. 5 court appearance, crown prosecutor Brandt outlined a statement of facts about the case for the court.

What happened the night of Oct. 13–14, 2010?

At the time of the murder, four young men were living together at a rural residence near Bonnyville, Alberta, a small town about 150 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.

They were Dawson Lindsay (27), Jimmy Armillotta (27), Filip Kedzior (21) and Brandon Cruickshank, (18). The ages are listed at the time of the murders. Except for Kedzior, who was from nearby Bonnyville, all of the men were from Revelstoke and maintained ties here.

The property and residence was owned by Dawson Lindsay’s parents Calvin and Holly Kermack.

The four were involved in operating a marijuana grow operation at the property and had been there for most of the summer. The grow-op was located outside, several hundred metres from the house on the residence. Prosecutor Randy Brandt told the court that Dawson Lindsay was the primary operator of the grow operation and the other three were helping him. Brandt described the operation as rather amateurish, noting they were attempting to grow marijuana outdoors in a cold climate in northern Alberta without the assistance of sophisticated hydroponic equipment.

One of Brandon Cruickshank’s jobs at the grow operation was guarding the outdoor field. For this job he was given a 12-gauge shotgun.

Cruickshank had another connection to Dawson Lindsay, other than assisting him with the grow operation. Lindsay was in a relationship with Cruickshank’s sister Dezarae Basset, and the couple had a child together.

Brandt told the court that on the evening of Oct. 13, 2010, Lindsay had a dispute with Bassett and came to the conclusion that their relationship was over.

Prosecutor Brandt said Lindsay’s animosity over the situation extended to Bassett’s brother Brandon Cruickshank. Lindsay told Cruickshank that he had to leave the grow-op, saying Kedzior would give him a ride back to Revelstoke the next day.

This angered Cruickshank, who believed that Lindsay was treating both his sister Bassett and himself unfairly, Brandt told the St. Paul courtroom.

The grow operation Brandon Cruickshank was guarding was located several hundred metres out back of the house. Just before midnight on Oct. 13, Cruickshank took the shotgun and five shells he’d been provided and headed back towards the house.

Brandt said Cruickshank’s primary intention wasn’t to harm Armillotta or Kedzior, but he soon concluded he didn’t have any other option if he wanted to get to Lindsay.

From outside the home, Cruickshank could hear Dawson Lindsay arguing with his sister on the telephone. He opened the door and burst into the home.

Jimmy Armillotta and Fil Kedzior were seated in the living room when Cruickshank entered from behind them. Kedzior was sitting in a chair and Armillotta was laying sideways on a sofa. They were watching TV.

In court, Brandt referred to a transcript of an RCMP interview of Cruickshank after the murders:

Officer: Do you remember what they were watching?

Cruickshank: No, I didn’t look.

Officer: Did they say anything to you?

Cruickshank: No. I came in there and I was quick about it ‘cause I didn’t want to think about it. ‘Cause every time I thought about it, I always fuckin’ cried but, thought about I have to kill Fil or Jimmy y’know? ‘Cause they’re so nice to me compared to Dawson but there’s nothin’ I can do about it. They’re three of them and one of me and I’m a small guy and they’re on steroids. Like, I couldn’t handle them hand to hand. And five bullets was all I had, on my life. No way muscles could handle those guys. So, so yeah. I took them out as quick as I could and there was nothing said. An’ you know like it was just weird. Like it was all quick an’, and I looked for Dawson an’ he was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t makin’ any noise. Like, he was hidin’. So I got scared an’ I knew he had a pistol and lots of ammo. So, I was like fuck.

Brandt told the court that Cruickshank shot Armillotta once from behind from a distance of about five feet, hitting him in the back of the head and killing him instantly. Cruickshank shot Kedzior twice in the back of the head from about ten feet away, also killing him instantly. Police photos from the scene show the two deceased young men hadn’t moved from where they were sitting when Cruickshank burst into the home.

Brandt told the court that Dawson Lindsay was in a room upstairs and didn’t immediately notice the gunshots and remained on the phone with Dezarae. He came downstairs minutes later and found the two dead. He feared for his life and fled the scene.

In the meantime, Cruickshank had fled to a neighbour’s home, apparently afraid that Dawson Lindsay would come after him. He told the neighbour he needed help and then surrendered the shotgun to him.

Police arrived at the neighbour’s home sometime later and took Cruickshank into custody. Later, Cruickshank provided a statement to police confirming the murder of Jimmy Armillotta and Phil Kedzior.

Crown prosecutor satisfied with sentence

The defence didn’t request for a psychological assessment of Brandon Cruickshank.

When contacted by the Times Review, Brandon Cruickshank’s defence lawyer Laura K. Stevens, Q.C. said the case was a tragedy. “This was one of the saddest cases of my career,” she wrote in an email. “I have no other comment thank you.”

Crown prosecutor Brandt said the Crown didn’t make any deals or arrangements with any witnesses who appeared at an earlier pre-trial hearing.

Brandt said he was satisfied with the outcome of the proceedings. “I think what happened here was in the public interest,” Brandt said. “The Crown’s office is very satisfied with how it turned out.”

Cruickshank’s sentences run concurrently, meaning he will be able to apply for parole after 15 years, but it’s not common for parole applications to be granted the first time, and applicants must prove they’ve reformed. “In fact, it’s quite rare for a person to get parole on a first application,” Brandt said. “He would be able to apply. He’d have to show that he had bettered himself or that he was no longer a threat to society and it would be incumbent on him to show those things.” The minimum parole application wait a judge can sentence for second degree murder is 10 years; the maximum is 25.

[Updated story]

No ‘closure’ after guilty verdict

Jimmy Armillotta’s mother Brenda Armillotta says despite the guilty plea and life sentences, she’s still struggles to move on. “I don’t have closure. All I have is – it just feels like my heart’s just ripped open,” Brenda Armillotta said in an interview after she returned to Revelstoke from the trial in St. Paul. “There’s no closure just because this kid’s going to jail.”

At the trial, Brenda read a victim impact statement, but felt her message wasn’t received by Brandon Cruickshank. “This kid had no remorse. None, whatsoever. You should have seen him,” Brenda said. “There was nothing. There was no sorrow in his face — nothing. It was just blank. And I got mad and I said, ‘You look at me when I talk to you.’”

Brenda also said that Jimmy had stayed at the residence near Bonnyville for some time after family members advised him to leave due to the deteriorating situation there. Brenda said Jimmy’s reason for staying on was to help out his friends, and especially to protect Brandon Cruickshank, who was younger than the others. “[Cruickshank] even stated on the stand that he liked Jimmy – Jimmy protected him,” Brenda noted.

“He was a good soul,” she said. “Jimmy was the type that everybody went to for help.”

Armillotta praised the Justice A.W. Germain’s conduct through the proceedings – he had been tough and assertive.

Brenda and other family members also wanted to clear up a point. They said that Jimmy would have never taken steroids. That assertion appeared in Brandon Cruickshank’s confession, which was included in the joint submission to the court. The defence also described the others in the home as being involved with steroids, something Brenda vehemently denies. “There’s no way in hell,” she said. “Jimmy on steriods? Are you kidding me?

“He was too much of a health nut.”

She also pointed to a toxicology report that had been presented during a pre-trial hearing that had shown no traces of steroids in Jimmy’s system. A spokesperson for Alberta Justice said they do not disclose medical records such as post-mortem toxicology reports. The Times Review contacted the Cold Lake, Alberta RCMP detachment but were referred to an Alberta RCMP major crimes unit.

The Times Review left telephone messages with them, but the calls were not returned. The Crown prosecutor said his office couldn’t provide that kind of evidence.

Armillotta also disputes parts of the timeline presented in the joint-submission to the court. She said Jimmy hadn’t been at the residence for as long as suggested, and that his ultimate destination was Smithers, where he was scheduled to stay with a friend.

The guilty plea and sentence was no consolation for Brenda Armillotta. “{Jimmy’s] missing out on love … kids,” she said.

Jimmy’s sister Jeanine Armillotta said she was pleased the plea and sentence had cleared up remaining questions about the case. “I’m pretty happy that {Cruickshank’s] going to be in jail,” she said. “It all boils down to he killed two people in cold blood.” However, she underscored the senselessness of the murders, noting Jimmy had been a friend to Brandon — he’d even spent many hours that day playing video games with Cruickshank. Jimmy had helped intervene in an increasingly worse situation to help Cruickshank.  “He was the one that calmed the situation,” she said.

The defence submitted that Cruickshank had recently stopped taking antidepressant medication. “That is a poor, poor, poor excuse,” Armillotta said.

“It’s more frustrating for me to know that my brother died for absolutely no reason at all,” she said, adding there were outstanding issues.

She hopes to see action in the courts on the issue of the firearm involved and other guns alleged to be a the home at the time.

She also feels there were many warning signs that Brandon Cruickshank was dealing with serious personal issues and more could have been done to intervene in the situation prior to the tragic murders.

Cruickshank’s mother asks for prayers for those involved

Carrie MacDonald is the mother of Brandon Cruickshank, who committed the murders just after legally becoming an adult. She issued a brief statement: “No statement or comment seems appropriate at this time and maybe never will be. However, as myself and another family member were deemed witnesses at the very start of this investigation, because we received text and phone calls with very different details in this case that had a grave impact on the events of that tragic night, those details have never been revealed to the public and hopefully someday will be. The details that were revealed Monday, however, during sentencing were details that as witnesses were kept from the family until Monday, when we have had to deal with the shock of them at the same time as everyone else. The events that led up to that night are extremely sad and shocking for all families involved, but none are an excuse for the tragic outcome for the victims and their families. Our condolences and deepest sympathies go out to them.”

She asked for community members to pray for all families involved. “tragic, sad, sad day.”

 

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