Courtenay man sentenced for murdering acquaintance in Vancouver


For the second-degree murder of an acquaintance in Vancouver, a Comox Valley man received a mandatory life sentence recently without hope of parole for 10 years.

Aaron Juhani Yliruusi, 32, was convicted Jan. 31 by a B.C. Supreme Court jury in Vancouver for killing William Merchant on Jan. 11, 2009 in the 65-year-old’s apartment.

Judge Brenda Fisher could have ruled out a chance of parole for up to 25 years, but opted last month for the minimum 10 years.

In her reasons for sentencing, made public Friday, the judge recounted Yliruusi testifying that he and Merchant had known each other since 1997.

At trial, Fisher recounted, Yliruusi admitted that he stabbed Merchant, but denied that he intended to kill him or even to stab him.

“The defences of intoxication and accident or lack of intent were also put before the jury,” the judge noted.

Yliruusi testified that he had a longstanding drug habit. Merchant supplied Yliruusi with drugs, mainly cocaine.

“Over the years the two became friends,” the judge noted. “Mr. Merchant often took Mr. Yliruusi in when he had no place to go.”

On the weekend of the murder, Yliruusi and girlfriend Julie Labranche were staying at Merchant's apartment. They were on their way from Courtenay to Calgary. Yliruusi testified he was coming off morphine and was feeling the effects of withdrawal.

Testimony indicated Yliruusi consumed a large number of Tylenol 3s and drank some liquor. He said this caused him to want drugs and he decided to rob Merchant, Fisher said. He brought a knife that he and Labranche had brought with them from Courtenay for protection.

With two witnesses in the next room, Yliruusi demanded money and threatened Merchant with the knife. Merchant refused, picked up a wooden stick to defend himself, and was fatally stabbed.

Fisher ruled that Yliruusi had not intended to kill Merchant.

Although Yliruusi “has always had the loving support of his mother, he has led a criminal lifestyle since his teen years,” the judge commented. “Most of this has been fuelled by drug addiction. His serious drug use began with cocaine and crack cocaine, and progressed to injecting heroin and opiates.”

An extensive criminal record, she said, began in 1995 at age 17. Most of his early offences were property crimes and failure to comply with orders. In 2003, there was a long string of theft and fraud offences that resulted in a term of imprisonment in the federal system. Two convictions involved violence.

Yliruusi told the judge he went on a methadone program during his current incarceration and is now clean of drugs. He is working to complete Grade 12.

“He acknowledged that it is inexcusable to take the life of another,” Fisher noted. “He told me that his mother instilled values in him and he knows what is right and what is wrong. He is not going to give up on the future that he has, and he knows that he must make the best of his situation.”

Fisher said she accepts Yliruusi's statement that he is remorseful.


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