North Okanagan man pleads guilty, sentenced for fatal shooting

8.5 years for shotgun killing

A North Okanagan man was handed an 8.5-year sentence Thursday for fatally shooting a man near Armstrong in September 2021, after he struck a plea deal with the Crown just days before his jury trial was set to begin.

Jevon Smith, 48, has been behind bars ever since he was arrested on Sept, 20 2021 and charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of 24-year-old Dakota Samoleski.

Samoleski’s body was found in a gravel pit on Back Enderby Road, northwest of Armstrong, on Sept. 20, 2021. The discovery prompted a several-hour RCMP manhunt for Smith, during which police publicly described the incident as a “suspicious occurrence.”

Smith was found and arrested later that day.

Guilty plea

Thursday morning, Smith entered a guilty plea to the second-degree murder charge, opting to not to proceed with a scheduled jury trial. On Monday, the 12-person jury was selected and the month-long trial was scheduled to begin next week.

But instead, Smith proceeded to sentencing Thursday. While second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence, manslaughter using a firearm carries a mandatory minimum sentence of four years and a maximum of a life sentence.

Second-degree murder differs from manslaughter in that second-degree murder involves a deliberate homicide, while manslaughter is an unintentional killing.

The Crown and defence submitted a joint sentencing submission of the 8.5 years, and Justice Gary Weatherill went along with the submission. With credit for time served, Smith has four years and 10 months left to serve.

Stolen shotgun

As part of the plea deal, Smith agreed to the facts of the case that Crown prosecutor Tim Livingston laid out during Thursday's hearing.

Smith and Samoleski were hanging out on the evening of Sept. 19, 2021 when they secured a ride in Enderby from a woman. The identity of the woman is protected by a publication ban.

During the ride, Smith told her that his wife and daughter had been murdered. Smith appeared to believe this at the time, although the Crown has said this isn't true. Livingston said Smith has dealt with addiction and mental health issues for many years, and he was likely using drugs and experiencing a mental health episode during the evening.

Smith got a ride to a home of an acquaintance in the area at about 2 a.m. and stole a shotgun. During a previous bail hearing, the Crown alleged Smith threatened to stab the shotgun's owner if he didn't give it up and that he said he needed the gun to threaten the people who he believed had killed his family.

The woman drove Smith and Samoleski to various locations around the North Okanagan for several hours. Smith was acting erratically, and eventually, he pointed the gun at the woman and demanded she continue driving him through the early morning hours. He demanded she tell him about the killing of his wife and daughter, but the woman didn't know what he was talking about.

Livingston said the woman was “terrified” throughout the ordeal.

Struggle ensues

Sometime after 11 a.m. on Sept. 20, Samoleski wanted to go home, but Smith didn't want to. The two began arguing and at one point, Samoleski deployed bear spray in the vehicle. Samoleski brandished a knife at one point, and during a struggle for the gun, Smith shot Samoleski through his jaw and neck, killing him.

A passerby drove by the gruesome scene at about 11:30 a.m. and called police.

Smith drove away and dumped Samoleski's body at a nearby gravel pit, while police began their manhunt for him. Smith drove to a couple of friends' homes over the next couple hours seeking help, one of whom contacted police.

A few hours later, police found Smith near Powerhouse and Demorest roads, east of Armstrong, driving the woman's vehicle. Smith tried to flee, striking a police vehicle, before he ran through the gate of a residential home, came to a stop and surrendered to police.

Smith has claimed the killing was done in self-defence. He has said Samoleski was trying to kill him, and he was forced to shoot him. Smith lost his right eye in the close-quarters shooting, and he wore an eye patch during Thursday's hearing.

Released on bail days prior

Smith was in and out of jail in the weeks leading up to the killing of Samoleski.

He was released from custody on Aug. 14, 2021 after serving jail time for threatening his landlord with an imitation handgun. Then, on Aug. 31, he was arrested again for breaking into his ex-spouse's home in Salmon Arm.

A judge released him on bail on Sept. 14, with a $1,000 deposit and house arrest, supervised by a surety. But the surety later told police she had only known Smith for about four months, and within days, Smith had walked away from the home.

On Sep. 18, two days before the killing, the surety told police Smith had left her home with another man. Later that day, an officer recognized Smith in a vehicle near the Armstrong RCMP detachment, but Smith drove off and police were unable to apprehend him.

Samoleski was killed by Smith two days later.

Tearful apology

Samoleski's mother attended court Thursday, and Smith's defence counsel Troy Anderson read out an apology to her from Smith during the hearing:

“I want to offer you an offer, sincere apology for what happened to your son,” he said. “I have nightmares all the time over it and I hope you understand I had no intention for this to happen.

“I know we were once friends and although I'm certain that has changed, I wish you the best. I hope you find peace and closure in what I'm telling you. I hope it eases your pain, even a bit as there is much more to this story. I don't want his death to be in vain, if you can find it in your heart, please accept my apology.”

Samoleski's mother cried as the statement was read out, and responded with, “thank you.”

'Unenviable' record

Livingston described Smith's criminal record as “unenviable,” noting he's been regularly in and out of custody since 2003, save for a period between 2011 and 2016. He added that Smith was under probation and bail conditions when the killing took place, which included firearms prohibitions.

But Livingston said Smith's guilty plea Thursday is a “significant mitigating factor” for sentencing, as it saves witnesses from having to testify about what was no doubt a traumatic experience.

Anderson also added that a conviction at trial was not a certainty. He cited the “chaos” in the vehicle when the gun went off, which may have made it difficult for the Crown to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the elements of a murder.

In handing down the sentence, Justice Weatherill ruled the manslaughter was closer to a “near-accident” rather than a “near-killing.” He accepted the joint submission of 8.5 years, but with enhanced credit for time served, he's left with four years and 10 months to serve.

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