Steven Antone is being sentenced for killing James Willits, 29, in a 2015 London drug dispute

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Steven Antone is heading to prison – but he won’t find out until next month how long he will be there.

What he did know by the end of his Tuesday sentencing hearing is that the judge will recommend he serve his sentence for manslaughter at an institution specializing in helping Indigenous offenders.

The 25-year-old has been in custody for more than two years after James Willits, 29, died of head injuries from being stomped inside his apartment on March 2, 2015.

The circumstances surrounding the death are hazy, given that everyone involved that night was part of London’s drug subculture.

But the reason for the attack had to do with a dispute over one missing pill.

The discussion, which first began over Facebook, became so inflamed that Antone, Travis Chrisjohn, 32, and Brandon Nichols, 36, confronted Willits at his Base Line Road apartment’s doorstep.

Willits had met them with a small baseball bat in his hand.

After he put the baseball bat on the floor, Antone pounced, first punching Willits in the face and stomping on the head twice when he was on the floor.

Antone rifled through Willits’ girlfriend’s purse and took $50 and her cellphone, then filled a backpack with Willits’ clothing.

Then he left with Chrisjohn and returned with the empty backpack.

Willits was helped to bed by his girlfriend and Nichols. Chrisjohn returned briefly and Willits was heard to cry out in pain when he was alone with him.

Willits had resisted going to the hospital, but as the morning wore on and his condition deteriorated, he was taken for medical help. He died in hospital of head injuries.

While Nichols’ charges were dismissed at the preliminary hearing, Chrisjohn pleaded guilty months ago to aggravated assault and was sentenced to time served.

But Antone, who was arrested some time after Willits death, is looking at a much longer sentence.

Willits’ mother, Cathy, spoke at Chrisjohn’s sentencing and encouraged him to change his life. This time she didn’t offer a victim impact statement.

But his father, Dan, did read his statement, and spoke about his son buying into “a belief system I could not accept.

“It valued the things I despised and despised the things I valued,” he said.

Willits’ father spoke of his own guilt and shame that his son didn’t share his values. He asked the court not allow his son’s killer to carry “a badge of honour’ for his use of violence.

“It would be disheartening to allow his death to be used to enhance their status in that world of violence and short-term gratification where they strive to be recognized,” he said.

“I cannot expect long-term remorse for their actions from any of those involved, but something akin to a real, lasting regret of those actions would be appreciated.

“So far, I have seen very little that will stick over time,” he added.

Assistant Crown attorney James Spangeberg asked for an eight- to 10-year sentence and referred to Antone’s violent criminal record that included assault, aggravated assault, assault causing bodily harm and armed robbery.

Antone had only been out of jail for about two months before Willits’ death, he noted.

Defence lawyer Gordon Cudmore said the range was between six and eight years.

Cudmore pointed to Antone’s Gladue report – a specialized report for Indigenous offenders – and to Antone’s troubled background.

He told Superior Court Justice Johanne Morissette that Antone wanted to plead guilty and accept responsibility.

He also said Antone wants help.

For his part, Antone stood up the prisoner’s box and in a quiet voice said he was sorry about what happened. He directed his apology to the Willits family.

“There’s nothing I can say to bring him back,” he said.

He said that when he serves his sentence that he gets help for his anger issues.

“I’m ready,” he said quietly.

“I never really got help.”

The judge’s sentencing decision is expected to be handed down Sept. 29.

jsims@postmedia.com


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