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West Kelowna family starts to put violent event behind them
For the last two years, Charrie Hyatt sought peace in the aftermath of a violent episode that unhinged her life.
Then on Monday, the feeling that seemed forever beyond her grasp finally came along.
“It should be sunny today—I woke up happy, which was weird,” she said, making note of the gloomy weather. “Ashlee is at peace, we have closure and the court nightmare is over.”
It took just over two days for the verdict to be rendered, and that final stretch was more difficult than expected. “When you’re waiting for that decision, and trying to stay calm, it’s hard,” she said.
“I thought I was going to hyperventilate. I was so nervous. I’ve fought for justice for two and a half years …and I believed so hard.”
It was ultimately up to “12 strangers” to accept what she saw as truth, but the trial offered so many twists and turns that there were moments that even she found herself unsettled.
Crown counsel Murray Kaay had laid out a straightforward case that came down to one teen deciding to use a knife to end a teenage drama.
That decision left Ashlee with a five-centimetre-deep wound to her neck, and ultimately dying of massive blood loss.
DNA evidence on the knife and the killer’s clothes, as well as witness testimony that placed the teen with the weapon left only one answer, Kaay said.
The defence, however, suggested an alternate scenario that relied on a chronology of moments leading up to the stabbing, character smash-ups, as well as the details of teenage love triangles —all of which were trivial when compared to what came next.
In the final days of the trial, they offered up who they believed to be another viable option for the role of killer; Ashlee’s longtime friend.
“(The defence) was a gong show,” said Charrie.
“They made Ashlee sound like a bully—she was never a bully—and her friends, who are good people, were attacked. It was hard.”
The negative way her daughter and friends were portrayed in the courtroom was almost enough to shake her faith in a system that ultimately sided with her.
“It’s weighted to the defence,” she said. “The accused has so many rights that you can’t infringe on, but we don’t get character witnesses for Ashlee. Why can’t we say something positive about a girl that’s now dead?”
It’s not surprising that a mother wants to share the brighter side of her daughter’s personality and life. Nor that negative portrayals circulating years after her death were painful to deal with.
But beyond that, positivity is actually something that Charrie has fought to maintain in the last couple of years.
“The day after Ashlee died, I thought what do I do, where do I go from here?” she said.
“Then, it’s almost like I got a sense of calm, and I knew. (The convicted teen) already took my Ashlee, but she wasn’t going to take me and my (youngest daughter)…I had to make a decision to not be angry all the time.”
It wasn’t an easy decision to stand by, but she was given help by reaching out to an online network of parents who had experienced similar losses named, Families Against Crime and Trauma.
“So many I spoke to went to such negative ways and they told me how it destroyed their lives, and I wanted to be different,” she said.
“I wanted to make sure it didn’t affect (my younger daughter) and Ashlee wouldn’t have wanted us to be hostile and angry, anyway. She would have been so disappointed if I changed as a person.”
Charrie also sought counselling, and although it took more than four and a half months to access, victims’ services provided a wealth of support.
And somewhere in the mix, she found an inner well of strength that led her to believe she had what was needed to fight for her daughter until she was ready to let go.
With the court process all but complete, closure, Charrie admits, may be soon. Although she’s not sure what it will look like.
She still writes to her daughter every night, and tells of her day’s events and feelings.
“I don’t know how long I’ll do that for,” she said. “Maybe one day I’ll just stop, but for now I’ll keep going, it makes me feel good.”