June 23rd, 2024

Five years for killing husband

By Collin Gallant on August 14, 2018.

A member of the Medicine Hat Police Service's Forensic Unit investigates the death of John Holmes on June 18, 2016. Barbara Holmes, the victim's wife, was was sentenced to five years on Aug. 13, 2018.


A woman who stabbed her husband 17 times in the back, leaving him bleeding to death while she called her daughter for help, rather than an ambulance, has received a five-year prison sentence.

That was at the low end of a range lawyers suggested and is based largely on a report that asks mitigating factors be considering when sentencing Indigenous offenders.

Delivering the sentence at Medicine Hat court house on Monday, Justice James Langston called Barbara Holmes’ killing of her husband John in June 2016 “a singular, abhorrent, unexplainable, inexcusable act.”

He continued at length about the differences between Aboriginal concepts of justice and official court procedures.

“We are talking about deterrence and denunciation,” he said, whereas Aboriginal justice would concentrate on “holistic” rehabilitation.

“But I must deal with the fact that a man is dead for no apparent reason.”

Barbara Holmes, 53, will spend about two more years in custody once time served is considered. She has been in custody since June 2016 after police found the body of John Holmes at the couple’s home in Ross Glen.

She initially pled not guilty to second-degree murder, but then in April pled guilty to manslaughter. An agreed statement of facts outlines a fight following drinking at which point she attacked her husband with a kitchen knife leaving wounds 16 inches deep.

At that point she called her daughter and asked for help hiding the crime. The daughter called authorities instead.

Crown prosecutor Jace Cowan had argued that a sentence of seven to eight years would be appropriate. He declined comment following the sentencing.

Defence lawyer Clint Yarshenko argued the attack might not have happened at all if the woman hadn’t lived a life of “isolation” caused by lingering effects of the residential school system.

Arguing a lack of support, a “circle of violence,” dysfunctional married life and the violence of the attack itself being uncharacteristic for Holmes, Yarshenko said the sentence was favourable but appropriate.

“The range we agreed to was between the five and eight years,” Yarshenko told reporters afterward. “The length is determined by the personal circumstances of the accused.

“It’s a one-off, inexplicable situation highly fraught with emotion, and unlikely to happen again.”

Langston also agreed to recommend she serve her time at a healing lodge near Maple Creek, a medium security prison which has programs to reconnect inmates with Indigenous heritage

“In terms of rehabilitation, I’m not sure much is needed per se,” said Yarshenko. “She would certainly benefit from counselling … reconnecting with her native community and spirituality will be of great benefit.”

Holmes wept into the sleeve of her green sweatshirt as she listened to Yarshenko describe her upbringing in an abusive home in Saskatchewan. Her mother and other family members attended residential schools. Her father demanded she work but would lock her out of the house if she returned late from the restaurant where she worked.

He said an initially positive relationship with John Holmes was a means to escape, but soon devolved into a codependent, alcoholic marriage.

Yarshenko described John as recently depressed about the prospects of regaining work in the oil patch, and feeling threatened when his wife became the primary income-earner in the household. The couple quarrelled about a brief affair between John and a family friend.

“It was a rage in which there’s no quantification,” said Yarshenko, saying there was nothing in her mind at the time other than a “temporary insanity.”

Justice Langston spoke at length about Barbara’s Cree heritage in a “Gladue Report” required when sentencing Indigenous criminals.

Such a report is mandated by the Supreme Court and forces judges to consider Indigenous status as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

Langston said the effects of government treatment of First Nations and Indigenous people must be considered strongly, and that the justice system must adjust for the better.

“Does anyone in this community care to know anything about this woman other than what they might read in the media” he asked. “I think they’re likely not interested.”

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5 years ago

What the hell is wrong with our justice system?? I don’t care if you’re white, black, purple or green, (and yes Aboriginal), how can a sentence of 5 years with time served possibly serve justice in this case? And how does a bad childhood, or spousal infidelity justify 17 knife wounds to the back? The message here is, however horrible the crime, if you are clever and creative you can manipulate the system. What a great message to all violent offenders!