10 years for B.C. man who killed girlfriend with hammer, burned her body

10 years for B.C. man who killed girlfriend with hammer, burned her body

Ryan Armstrong claimed in Chilliwack court to victim’s family the drug-addled crime was an accident

Deep in the throes of a multi-day crack cocaine binge two years ago, Ryan Jack Armstrong kept working at his day job as a carpenter.

But he wasn’t sleeping and he was developing paranoid delusions that would lead to a tragedy that landed him a 10-year jail sentence in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Wednesday.

Armstrong’s hammer, specifically a Stiletto brand, became something of a symbol and was something he held almost 24 hours a day.

It was a tool of his trade in the daylight, a tool for defence against imagined demons at night.

“I developed paranoid delusions never sleeping from the drugs, making it a habit to pace up and down our apartment,” he said in addressing the court Tuesday, “always wielding my Stiletto.

“I worked all day holding my Stiletto. I paced around all night holding my Stiletto.”

Victoria Norma Heppner, killed by Ryan Armstrong on March 29, 2016 in Burnaby, her body burned on a forest service road in Mission a day later.

Armstrong’s roommate in his basement apartment in Burnaby was 28-year-old Victoria Norma Heppner. The two were not intimate partners, according to Armstrong, but they met online and lived together as best friends who each battled demons.

Heppner was under a cloud after leaving Alberta accused of stealing more than $20,000 from a GoFundMe account set up for a widow and her two children in the fall of 2015. Armstrong had received $40,000 from a workplace accident settlement. The two appeared to be burning through their cash, at least in part fuelling Armstrong’s ongoing drug use.

“We were inseparable,” Armstrong said. “We became best friends. I try to hold on to those memories. For months before the accident our passion to find happiness was consumed by evil temptations.”

That supposed “accident” occurred on March 29, 2016, the moment Armstrong said he was pacing the apartment, as he often did, holding his hammer subject to hallucinations and delusions that someone was out to get them.

Then, the unthinkable happened.

“She was wearing one of my big black sweaters at the time,” he said. “It was dark. I got spooked. I was not seeing Tory through those psychotic, suicidal eyes.”

But it was Heppner. Armstrong struck the young woman in the back of the head with that hammer with one sharp blow killing her, likely instantly.

• READ MORE: 11 years sought for Burnaby man who killed girlfriend with hammer, burned her body

“It was that one fast fatal blow that left me standing over my best friend realizing what I had done.”

But it was what Armstrong did next that was described by Crown counsel Carolyn Lawlor as “egregious” and even his own lawyer Paul McMurray as “objectively reprehensible.”

He wrapped Heppner’s body in a tarp, put it in a garbage can, and loaded into the back of her pickup truck along with many belongings of both of them. He drove from Crest Drive in Burnaby to a Shell station in Maple Ridge and purchased gasoline. He then drove to the Florence Lake Forest Service Road near Stave Lake in Mission.

He put those things and his friend’s body in a pit and lit them on fire.

Once the fire was burning, Armstrong left and drove to a Husky station in Mission to purchase more gasoline. While he was gone, a passerby saw the fire and tried to put it out until he saw Heppner’s body and he went to call police.

Armstrong then came back to the scene and lit a second fire. When the witness and police arrived at the scene, Armstrong was sitting in Heppner’s truck, watching the fires.

“I didn’t light those fires to try to get away with what I had done,” he told the court. “For me, at the time, it was our funeral. I was to eventually kill myself at the same time.”

But he didn’t kill himself, and in fact took selfies with Heppner’s phone and the fires in the background. He was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. He confessed to much of what had happened, a mitigating factor in sentencing.

• READ MORE: Man charged with killing woman, dumping body near Mission to plead guilty

A year and a half after the crime, on Sept. 29, 2017, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and one count of improperly or indecently offering an indignity to human remains.

At his two-day sentencing hearing this week, Crown counsel asked for a sentence of six years for the manslaughter and the maximum of five years for the indignity to human remains to run consecutive for a total of 11 years.

Defence asked for a total sentence of eight years.

In the end, Justice Murray Blok agreed to the six years, but not the maximum for burning the body, rather he gave four years for that. Armstrong has been in pre-trial custody for 967 days. Given the usual 1.5-to-one credit, that equals 1,451 days or three years 356 days credit.

In attendance at the sentencing hearing was Armstrong’s ex-wife who is the mother of his two children, in addition to the victim’s father Edward Heppner, her sister and her aunt.

Tears flowed on both sides of courtroom 202 as Armstrong addressed the court at the end of the hearing Tuesday and before the sentence was read out on Wednesday.

Dressed not in the standard orange pre-trial custody clothes, but in a dress shirt and pants his lawyer brought for him to wear, Armstrong told the Heppner family he didn’t dare ask for their forgiveness.

“I wouldn’t forgive myself,” he said.

The issue of a teardrop tattoo he had put on his face after the killing also came up at the hearing, Crown suggesting it might be an aggravating factor in sentencing given the background of the symbol in prison and gang culture. But his defence suggested the opposite, that it was a symbol meant to remind himself every day of the terrible act he committed against his best friend.

“This was a terrible accident and this is not who I am,” Armstrong said. “Until the day I go up to meet her I will wear this teardrop as a symbol of remembrance.

“I am so sorry to Tory’s son. I am so sorry to my two sons.”

These words led to a torrent of tears on both sides of the courtroom.

“Mr. Heppner, I want to look you in the eyes,” he said looking at the victim’s father who scarcely looked away from him during the entire sentencing. “I did not deliberately kill Tory. She was my friend and I am so sorry.”

Asked if he accepted the apology outside the courtroom, Heppner told The Progress he did not.

“No I don’t accept any of that. Those pictures, that was 100 per cent disrespectful to her. Two fires in the background, he’s smiling in that.”

Heppner did say he was satisfied with the sentence and with the work Crown did on the case.

“Crown counsel, Miss Lawlor, she did what she could. She had all her ducks in a row. I’m quite satisfied she did what she could do. Ten years is a good sentence.”


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A rendering shows the entrance planned for the Hornby Island Arts Centre. Image supplied
Numerous Comox Valley projects get CERIP grants

Numerous Comox Valley projects have received grants through the Community Economic Recovery… Continue reading

Thrifty Foods. (Black Press file photo)
Thrifty Foods confirms staff member tests positive for COVID-19 in Courtenay

The company currently lists 12 stores within B.C. with confirmed cases

Comox Valley Schools’ distance learning program, Navigate (NIDES), which saw some large gains in enrolment this year, could see a return to normal numbers come September. Image, screenshot
Comox Valley Schools expects enrolment drop come fall

Decline projected online, as more students return to ‘bricks-and-mortar’ classes

Cumberland will be looking to a parcel tax to cover debt for its new water system. File photo
Cumberland plans for parcel tax to cover water debt

Parcel tax review panel would take place March 22, if necessary

G.P. Vanier in Courtenay has six members of the community who have tested positive; Island Health identified seven staff and 78 students who will be required to self-isolate. Black Press file photo
SD71 identifies eight positive cases of COVID-19 and instructs 108 people to self-isolate

The letter noted that all who have tested positive did not contract COVID-19 within the school sites

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

The missing camper heard a GSAR helicopter, and ran from his tree well waving his arms. File photo
Man trapped on Manning mountain did nearly everything right to survive: SAR

The winter experienced camper was overwhelmed by snow conditions

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

The booklet roots present day activism in the history of racist policies, arguing the history must be acknowledged in order to change. (CCPA)
New resource dives into 150 years of racist policy in B.C.

Racist history must be acknowledged in order to change, authors say

The BC SPCA is offering many chances for school-aged kids to learn about animal welfare and other animal topics. Pictured here is Keith, a three-month-old kitten seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
From pets to wildlife, BC SPCA offers animal education programs geared to youth

BC SPCA offering virtual spring break camps, workshops and school presentations

Most Read