Lulonda Flett, the map of human frailties, and where they can lead us

1297184250604_ORIGINALAll it took was drunken anger and a match for a disadvantaged and unsophisticated mother of six to become Manitoba’s most recent mass killer.

To look at Lulonda Flett’s case and how she wound up where she is today — in jail for killing five people trapped in a rickety rooming house she torched at 288 Austin St. North in 2011 — is to consider truly human frailties which plague so many in our society.

The word ‘killer’ conjures up images for me, and many others. Hooded thugs who take lives without a thought. Remorseless predators so desperate to feel a sense of power and control they’d commit the ultimate sin to get there.

But that’s not Lulonda Lynn Flett, all things considered. And that’s the queasy irony of it all.

Ironic in that someone who’s as far from the stereotype of the common killer as she is, in the end, ends up taking more life away in one go than anyone else in my memory, including: teen gangsters armed with automatic guns or bona-fide family-loathing psychos.

People with histories like Ms. Flett’s don’t typically wind up in jail for mass slayings, at least not that I’ve seen. They usually wind up there because they shoplifted diapers, booze, or to feed a crack habit out of sheer desperation.

And it’s this dissonance, to me, that makes how she killed five people with one senseless act that much more of a mystery that’s been weighing on my mind for nearly two years now.

To her, the reason why she is where she is is simple. But I just don’t think that’s true. Maybe I’m over-thinking it.

“It was all about the drinking. That’s how I ended up here.” Lulonda Lynn Flett, to psychologist Dr. Kent Somers, early 2013

Could it be that simple? Or is it an excuse to try and dodge a potential life sentence in prison?

Lulonda Flett: The early years

The second-youngest of six siblings (a seventh died as an infant), Flett (then Harper) was born at the hospital in Norway House 41 years ago and soon brought back to her home community of St. Theresa Point.

Her mother’s doctor told her mom to give birth there because there was no appropriate medical facility in the small STP reserve, one of four which makes up the overall community of Island Lake.

A doctor visits there just once a month. Currently, of 521 Homes in STP – 463 have no water service and there’s an 83 per cent food insecurity rate.

Food prices are 50 per cent higher than average retail price — and this is today.

Who knows what it was like in 1971.

Mom was a community health worker and dad worked “odd jobs” to get their large family by.

Her folks drank, struggled with the bottle — excess Flett would ultimately came to see as “normative” behaviour in her later years.

Her parents’ parties often led her older sister to lock the younger kids in a bedroom when the adults were drinking. They’d watch TV or play music. She says dad would go on drinking “binges” to Winnipeg, sometimes staying there for months.

Flett’s older sister described violence breaking out after the drinking parties wound down. This prompted the sister to assume the role of protector to her sibings. She’d camp out on floor by the bedroom’s barricaded door to percent people from entering.

Sometimes, when her dad was on one of his city ‘trips,’ mom would go off to join him. Flett would be packed up to go stay at her aunt’s.

Sometime before she turned 10, Flett says an older relative began abusing her. She says she tried to tell her mother about what was happening, but was accused of “making it up so I wouldn’t have to sleep over there.”

She also says she tried to tell her aunt but, “nobody believed me [so] I just stopped trying to tell them.”

To this day, Flett remains curiously concerned about hurting her now 75-year-old mom’s relationship with her alleged abuser.

She says he tried to apologize to her once, but she rebuffed him. “I told him not to talk to me.” The relative was never charged.

Her mom, now 75 and caring for two of Flett’s children, ultimately quit drinking after Flett’s father got sick with stomach ulcers and suffered kidney failure.

Phase two: A portrait of Flett as a young woman 

At around 14 or 15 years old, Flett was sent away from STP to start school in Teulon, at a residential school where nuns ruled the roost. Her sister — her elder protector — was also there.

Raised in a home where Oji-Cree was the main dialect, Flett had to adjust her tongue to the English language as the nuns wouldn’t tolerate a word being uttered in any other language. They “insisted,” she says.

Nonetheless, Flett got good marks and enjoyed school. She “never missed a day,” she says.

According to Dr. Somers, “school represented a refuge from the relative chaos at home, [and] she agreed.” She also enjoyed playing sports.

The sister had a bit of different view, saying she dropped out at one point but was convinced to return. She and others, she says, were treated to disparaging comments from some. “Go back to the bush where you belong,” were among the insults hurled at them.

It was around this time Flett took her first drink. She met a young man named Brian, and became pregnant. This was 1986-87.

She ventured into Winnipeg and had the baby at Villa Rosa. Wanting to return to high school, arrangements were made for her to live with a relative in Brandon to complete Grade 11. It didn’t work out as planned.

Flett says that relative’s drinking problem paved her a road back to St. Theresa.

She still hoped to finish Grade 12, and find a job at the local nursing station. But it seems the challenges of life as a new mom didn’t allow that to happen as time wore on. “I had no time for myself — I always had a baby,” Flett says.

By 18, she met her husband to be, B., a man with whom she’s had five children. He was a “nice guy,” Flett says.

But ‘Mr. Nice’ wasn’t to last.

1310730736747_ORIGINAL“They used to call me raccoon eyes”

By 22, Flett and B. married, and they went to live at his parents home in nearby Garden Hill. “She was an active and supportive parent to her children,” her sister says.

Around this time things started to get ugly for her.

“She reported that her husband insisted that she drink with him, ‘forced’ her to do so,” Dr. Somers writes of his interviews with Flett.

B. and she would drink “super juice” — a noxious homebrew seen by many as a plague in the “dry” Island Lake community, given the mayhem and sickness it’s spawned there over the years.

B. also insisted Flett smoke weed and later crack cocaine.

They’d smoke up marijuana “almost daily” and come home from work over lunch to get high, Flett reported.

Their marriage and substance-sharing didn’t appear to make the bond between them stronger. Instead, she says B. became “very abusive” on a physical, sexual and emotional level. Flett also says he cheated. He couldn’t keep a job.

“According to Ms. Flett, her husband would lock her in the house, take her shoes and remove the phone so that she couldn’t contact anyone or ‘run away.’ Ms. Flett related that her husband often hit her with objects, and also burnt her with a cigarette.

“She commented, ‘they used to call me raccoon eyes’ because of the bruising from the reported assaults,” Dr. Somers wrote.

It didn’t seem to ever get better. In fact, the  abuse escalated into the evil cycle of domestic violence.

“Ms. Flett recounted an incident in which he assaulted her and then dragged her across a patch of rough ground,” Dr. Somers said. He was charged and served six months in lockup — and was fully compliant.

“[W]hen he returned to live with Ms. Flett, the violence continued and it was ‘worse.’ It was a cycle, she kept going back to him, he’d apologize and convince her he’d never do it again.

Berating herself for believing him time and again, she says her in-laws “told her that the violence was ‘always’ her fault.”

Flett’s kids began begging her to not go back to B. “They said he was going to kill me one day,” Flett says.

She and B. eventually separated. He left for Thompson. She stayed in STP — for now.

Somehow in the midst of all this Flett worked at the community Northern Store and managed to acquire her certificates in Home Care support work and First Aid along the way.

But now her drinking, it didn’t stop.

It just got worse.

2009-10: a new beginning?

In 2009, Flett came into a bit of a windfall. It may have also been her downfall.

Having never claimed any federal benefits for the kids, Flett was handed a $14,000 child-benefits cheque and they moved to Winnipeg.

That year or early the next, Flett started dating C., who was 36 and from her community. They met while he was on a drinking trip to the city.

“For Lulonda, this was the best relationship she had ever known,” Flett recently told the writer of a “Gladue” report looking at her aboriginal background and circumstances.

“He never hit me, he never abused me, and he was always there for me,” Flett said. “The two were inseparable, spending all their time together,” the report states.

For a time — and bolstered by the child-tax money – Flett returned to STP, paid for her kids’ needs, helping to fix up her mom’s home.

But C. had his own troubles. An alcoholic himself, he’d panhandle or borrow cash from a relative to get by. Eventually, he started siphoning money out of Flett and the relationship took a dark turn towards an apparent cliff.

“Lulonda returned to the city to be with C. She paid for his wants — alcohol and survived on family and friends as she had no real address. C. was very controlling over money and Lulonda especially as her money dried up. C. and Lulonda were both now on welfare and were drinking constantly.”

It was reflection upon this phase which caused her to realize the power the booze had over her life. “It was all about the drinking. That’s how I ended up here,” Flett told Dr. Somers. 

Not seeing the drinking as a problem, Flett never sought treatment. Her kids urged her to take it easy but “even these pleas” didn’t trigger a desire to seek change, Dr. Somers reports.

“She reported only that she has “tried to quit,” prompting hospitalizations for alcohol withdrawal. Flett subsequently relapsed (evidently quite quickly) to stifle emotional pain and because of her affiliation with others who were drinking.”

She equated the hospitalizations largely as normal, given her upbringing (see above).

It was around here that someone made a call to Child and Family Services, while Flett was in the throes of a drinking binge.

Flett’s children were taken away. One was already living with an aunt. Two others went to live with her mom. The others went to dad.

Flett “voiced bitterness toward B., expressing the belief that he had made the call to CFS in 2010 that resulted in the apprehension of her children,” Dr. Somers wrote. “I kind of don’t trust him,” she said.

The alcohol abuse only escalated after the kids were removed from her care. “I was lonely and depressed; I was angry at myself … I didn’t care about myself,” Flett said.

She was drinking up to a 26 oz. bottle of liquor daily up until the day after her arrest. She’d withdraw in hospital, get a valium prescription to ease the symptoms upon discharge. Resuming her drinking habit was “virtually immediate.”

It’s like she was living in a black hole: Drinking, blacking out from it, waking up and starting again.

“I wish it was me who died.” 

“I was so out of it: I just remember drinking with C.”

This: Pretty much the only thing Flett remembers about the early morning she torched the couch on porch of 288 Austin St. N. An act of anger which would wreak havoc on the lives of so many.

Just days before, she had been cut loose from the Remand Centre after being snatched on an old warrant for an assault against a relative who stayed at the rooming house. Someone she was barred from being around by virtue of court-orders.

“She reported that (C.) had told her they had argued” on the night in question, but can’t remember what about, Dr. Somers said.

“She recalled attending 288 Austin Street North … but voiced uncertainty as to her actions, almost 20 months having passed.”

Flett was later arrested in a bar and had to be told about what she did and the “extent of harm done” by the officers who interviewed her, the psychologist said, adding:

“When asked about a possible motive for the office, Ms. Flett stated she had been angry at C’s mother, who apparently resided in the rooming house … Apparently, (C’s) mother had previously called the police complaining about Ms. Flett’s behaviour at the rooming house.

According to Ms. Flett, Mr. Harper’s mother has been concerned about the number of people in the building and the resultant noise. However Ms. Flett was clear she did not intend significant harm to others nor did she anticipate that deaths would ensue from her actions. 

She commented bleakly, ‘I wish it was me who died.’

She expressed a mixture of tearful remorse for her actions tempered only by a measure of incredulity at the extent of what had occurred.”

Instead, dead are: Norman Darius Anderson, age 22; Maureen Claire Harper, age 54; Kenneth Bradley Monkman, age 49; Dean James Stranden, age 44; Robert Curtis Laforte, age 56.

Flett knew one of the men personally, and says she was related to Maureen Harper.

The wreckage of the fire was incredible to behold. I remember distinctly being there. I will never forget it. 

Nearly two years sober, now

Flett today, is a “physically robust” (Dr. Somers’ words) woman living in the “Delta” wing of the Women’s Correctional Centre just outside of Winnipeg.

It’s special needs wing of the new prison, a place where she’s been subjected to intimidation by other inmates who have discovered what she did.

Dr. Somers, in his lengthy report on Flett, makes several findings about her psychological makeup and abilities, ultimately conclusing she’s a “vulnerable individual” who has serious intellectual deficits and only “modest internal controls” to help herself manage her behaviour.

“A significant aspect of these findings from intellectual testing, although notably limited at present, is that these data suggest a context for understanding Ms. Flett’s responses to events in her life. That is, her capacity for learning from prior experiences is likely to differ from that of others [whose abilities are are typical for their age.]…

“Her responses to stress or to problems in her personal life are likely to be more limited and less effective than are those of most others her age. Her actions are most likely to be directed by immediate considerations [most likely about herself] rather than anticipation of long-term consequences [those affecting both herself and others]. Her focus on her own needs and interests over those of others is not a reflection of callous self-interest, it is an expression of her limited capacity for anticipating others’ needs or reactions while being [in comparison] acutely aware of her own hurt, fear and perceived options.

She needs help, Somers ultimately finds.

Also, she’s no psychopath.

Somers found no “compelling evidence of psychopathy” in the woman.

That is: no display of traits suggesting exaggerated self-importance, callous lack of empathy for others, multiple and versatile patterns of offending, nor frank manipulations of others. (Those are essentially his words).

He notes, however, several “historical factors” associated with Flett’s offending risk. This quasi ‘probability of future harm’ assessment includes the findings:

  • Unabated substance abuse, with no intervention.
  • Chronic domestic abuse with physical injuries
  • Emotional neglect
  • Sexual abuse which persisted despite having tried to report it.
  • Disrupted schooling
  • No interventions; no treatment for mental health issues in past.

The Crown wants to send Flett to prison for life for what she did, for her guilty pleas to five counts of manslaughter.

Her own lawyers want to see her serve time amounting to no more than 10 years.

You can read all about the sentencing process elsewhere. That’s not the purpose of this (lengthy) post.

See, the thing is, after considering all the factors, I just don’t know what’s appropriate here in terms of jailhouse punishment. 

Let’s face it, even if she does get life, she’ll still be eligible — eligible — for parole after seven years. So really, the Crown’s bid is one for lifetime supervision. Considering the horrific double-fatal arson case of Howard Mason, the request may not be out of line. The request appears to fall a little flat, however, when considering Flett’s nearly total lack of criminal involvement.

Also muddying the mix is her comment to Dr. Somers about not anticipating deaths would result from her actions.

It has me seriously wondering: Can someone with Flett’s background — with the life she’s been through and her level of intoxication at the time — actually fire the synapses which would suggest otherwise? That she actually knew what she was doing?

I’m just not so sure.

Some parting words of forgiveness

Marie Anderson, the mother of Norman Anderson, who died in the horrible blaze, wrote Flett a simply-worded letter. The level of forgiveness expressed is unusual, and if taken sincerely – inspiring.

“I often think about you and wonder how you must be feeling. 

I am writing you this letter to let you know I am not mad or angry with you and that I love you even though I never met you.

It is really hard for me to think about this person that I love so much, that was taken away from me suddenly. 

I pray that things will go well for you in court and I do not want to lay charges but it’s not up to me, to make that decision.

I want you to know I want to put this behind me and move on with my life

God bless you and take care

–Marie Anderson

*** Note: The factual contents of this post were largely sourced from a psychological report written by Dr. Somers in April 2013 and a Gladue report authored for Flett’s sentencing hearing. I’ve attributed where possible — most, if not all the direct quotes from Flett are from the Somers report. 

Edited post-posting to clean up typos.

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Joe McNabb and her rehab plan

Evaristo Caniuman

So, Joseph McNabb is back behind bars, just 10 days after she was freed from jail with a time-served sentence of two years jail [one year at double-credit] along three years probation for attempting to rob an injured Evaristo Caniuman in a West End street a couple of years back.

McNabb, who is transgendered and identifies as a female, seemed to have a lot more going for her than a lot of other offenders.

Mostly, she had a place to go [The Elisabeth Fry society transition home] when she got out 11 days ago.

At least some support was there for her. As it has seemingly been through her bail hearings, her prelim, her trial and sentencing.

But by my reading of her new charges, McNabb didn’t even bother to show up at Elisabeth Fry, instead going AWOL for about 10 days, or so the allegation goes.

She was arrested on Garry Street yesterday afternoon.

Probation officers applied for a warrant on the 15th of June after McNabb failed to report to them a day earlier.

Nobody knew where she went off to.

If she’s convicted of the two new breaches she’s facing, that will make 21 court-order breach convictions in her 29-year-lifetime.

While on bail awaiting trial for the killing of Caniuman — she was ultimately found not guilty of manslaughter — she breached court conditions twice, prompting her rearrest.

Those breaches led to a seemingly monumental Winnipeg Police Service press statement that appeared to take aim at the court system and bail conditions.

No one knows why the WPS came out and said it, but here it is for the record:

Homicide Re-arrest

As previously released, on April 10th, 2009, at approximately 6:00 p.m., uniformed members were dispatched to the area of Sargent Avenue and Young Street regarding a male being assaulted.

It is alleged that a twenty-seven year old male confronted a 60 year old male and began to assault him to the upper body. The victim was subsequently pushed to the ground at which time the assault continued. Upon arriving, officers located both males.

The suspect was taken into custody. The victim, identified as Evaristo CANIUMAN was conveyed to hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Twenty-seven year old Joseph William MCNABB of Winnipeg has been charged with Manslaughter.

On August 31, 2009 MCNABB was released by the Courts. Since his release MCNABB has failed to comply with conditions of his release on two occasions.

On January 10, 2010 MCNABB failed to comply with conditions of his Recognizance and was subsequently arrested by police.

On April 13, 2010 was once again released by the courts.

On August 23, 2010, MCNABB failed to comply with conditions of his Recognizance and a Warrant was issued for his arrest.

On August 24, 2010, MCNABB was located and arrested in the downtown area.

He has been detained in custody.

It’s important to note that at sentencing, McNabb faced a Crown who seemed adamant she should serve as long as three years for the attempted robbery, based largely on her past breach convictions.

The judge, however, didn’t buy it. He said efforts to rehabilitate her were in the best interest of society and her own.

Her own, extremely able, lawyers argued that the bulk of her remand time at the Winnipeg Remand Centre was spent in isolated, horrible conditions, marred by ridicule and scorn from other inmates and the occasional corrections officer.

But I have only one question.

If it was that bad, how did she ever wind up there again?

UPDATE:

Here’s the link to Justice Hanssen’s decision on sentencing

Here’s the link to Justice Hanssen’s decision on conviction

‘Common purpose’

Joseph Victor MacLeod (Passagesmb)

In this blog’s last post, it talked about the recent homicide of Abdul Jemai and one of his alleged youthful attackers — who is a known quantity to police and the justice system.

It also led to this comment from the writer of local blog One Man Committee (a must read).

“That is downright chilling. It’s like a little bit of Afghanistan here in the ‘Peg – human IEDs, ready to explode at any given moment.”

It led me to think: that’s some strong imagery. Human IEDs.

And while some may feel it’s a little too strong — Mr. Krawec actually nails it squarely on the head.

Random guy in street attacked, killed — by young suspects. Because of the YCJA, the focus turns to ‘correcting’ the offender and eschews, by and large, deterring similar acts in the future.

In just a few short years of covering crime in Winnipeg, I’ve seen this scenario play out over and over again. Sometimes with fatal results, sometimes not.

It played out on May 23, 2009, in the death of Joseph Victor MacLeod near Isabel and Ross, for example.

Two cousins – each just 14 – surround MacLeod over some gang beef and start pushing him. He’s knocked to the ground, stabbed twice and dies.

The facts are, essentially — and no disrespect meant to the tragedy that occurred — boring.

On May 23, 2009 at 1 p.m. the accused N. M. and his cousin, R. G. noticed a male, Joseph Victor MacLeod, walking down the nearby lane adjacent to Ross Street where the boys were standing.

Both boys went towards the victim and the accused N.M. confronted the lone male for wearing a white bandanna.

The accused N.M. asked the victim what he “reps”.  This can be inferred as a gang challenge by the accused who had known gang affiliation.

The victim denied any involvement with a rival gang, took his bandanna off and started to walk away, but the accused  standing in front of the victim held him back with  both hands blocking his exit, while his cousin, standing behind the victim, held on to the back of his shirt with one hand.  The victim was struck a total of five times in the body by the accused and his cousin.

The co-accused cousin then stabbed the victim twice with a large 25 to 28 ccm. blade knife doing extensive internal damage resulting in death.

Immediately thereafter both boys fled.  It is an agreed fact that there is not any evidence that the accused was aware that his cousin was carrying a knife, brandished it and used it during the assault.

The victim died of these stab wounds.

—- from Judge Brent Stewart’s Feb. 25 decision

In late February, one of the boys — the one who didn’t stab MacLeod — was convicted of manslaughter. He’s awaiting sentencing.

The judge convicted him of the crime based largely on the “common purpose” principle — that he ought to have foreseen the possibility of McLeod’s death by participation in the assault:

Turning to the facts of this particular case.  The court is bound by the agreed statement of facts with some inferences.

The confrontation, which occurred related to what the court can infer as a gang turf challenge where the accused confronted the victim, challenging his wearing of a white bandanna, swearing at him and wanting to know who he “reps”.

The victim was trapped between the accused in the front and the accused cousin in the back.  As the victim started to walk away the accused held on by both hands blocking his exit and between the two boys the victim was hit five times in the body.

From these facts, and the action of the co-accused in concert it was apparent to the court that in fact this was a gang turf challenge, where the two co-accused intended through their actions to rough up (assault or lay a licking on the victim) and teach him a lesson of not coming into their turf.

The question then is whether or not there was objectively reasonable foreseeability of the risk of bodily harm being done by the accused on the victim.  To answer that one must look at the acts and words used by the accused as it related to the victim in concert with his cousin.

If the accused simply blocked the movement of the victim by a push or shove, such would be excluded from the definition of bodily harm as being merely trifle.  However, his holding on to the victim and then striking the victim in the body with two punches at the same time that his cousin was striking the back of the victim’s body with three punches, would in my opinion be foreseeable to injure the victim sufficient to amount to bodily harm.  It would be foreseeable that such an attack to the victim’s body in this manner would interfere with the health and comfort of the victim both physically and emotionally for some time and would not be trifling.

In any outcome I am certain that a random attack such as this would leave any victim with some psychological harm of a non trifling nature such that there would be fear of simply walking down the wrong street and being subject to an assault.

Similar fact scenarios have played out countless times in the city in recent years. I cite just off the top of my head:

  • This: Argument over T-shirt led to fatal stabbing
  • This: Manslaughter conviction overturned (now pending a decision from the Supreme Court — arguments heard in December)
  • This: Teens get one-day jail sentences for deadly beating
  • This: Man, 20, jailed for violent killing

Angry youth roaming the streets commit senseless acts of violence for no apparent reason (or reason that is in any way, shape or form acceptable).

Should we be shocked? Sure. Will that shock lead to meaningful change — or an actual discussion about how to curb it?

Likely not.

I’d submit that finding “common purpose” in this instance is not just for lawyers and judges.

The daily deal(s), Wednesday:

Samantha Zeemel (Facebook)

Two killers, each offered plea deals today without Manitoba Justice stating any reasons as to why.

Case #1) Nicole Redhead suffocates and kills her abused baby daughter Jaylene and is charged with second-degree murder. The abuse and killing happens while she’s staying at a North End treatment centre, but no staff ever called police. It was Redhead’s incarcerated boyfriend who called 911. The girl was, by accounts, savagely beaten.

Case history: After a preliminary inquiry, Judge Mary-Kate Harvie rules Redhead should be tried for manslaughter given the evidence the Crown presented. The Crown fights for the reinstatement of the murder charge [and virtual certainty of greater punishment] and wins.

But then on Wednesday (today), Redhead pleads out to manslaughter, which carries no mandatory sentence.

No reason is given.

Case #2) Jason McDowell shoots his girlfriend Samantha Zeemel twice, in the head and the face after a cocaine binge in an East St. Paul home.

[UPDATE]: I should say alleged binge because he went on the run for a bit after the shooting and there was no real way to tell how intoxicated he was at the time.

Case history: Over the life of the file, McDowell and his lawyers try to quash the first-degree murder charge in favour of manslaughter, but the judge says no, goes halfway and allows a second-degree murder trial to go ahead.

But, like Redhead, the Crown allows him to plead to manslaughter at the last minute and he’s handed a 12-year sentence. No parole eligibility, no mandatory supervision for life despite the nature of the crime.

Again, no reason for the plea deal is given, or is at least stated in either The Sun, Free Press or CTV which reported thus:

McDowell had originally been charged with first-degree murder. That charge was later dropped to second-degree murder, before the charge was lowered once more to manslaughter in a plea deal.

[UPDATE:] Freep reporting:

The Crown agreed to drop a more serious charge of second-degree murder, which carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for at least 10 years. They cited his impairment as the main issue.

Not to beat a dead horse, but at the time of the shooting, RCMP believed there was enough evidence to support the most serious Criminal Code charge, and likely a Manitoba Justice Crown had to sign off on it, or was at least consulted prior to it being laid.

I can understand that a judge may see it differently and lessen the charge, but that was — despite McDowell’s lawyer’s fighting it — second-degree murder.

But in the end, there’s a plea to manslaughter.

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