The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal has dismissed a U.S. woman’s appeal of the life sentence she received for her role in a foiled plot to stage a mass killing at a Halifax mall in February 2015.
Lindsay Kanittha Souvannarath, 27, of Geneva, Ill., pleaded guilty in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in April 2017 to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder.
In April 2018, she was sentenced to life in prison with no parole eligibility for 10 years.
Souvannarath appealed the sentence imposed by Justice Peter Rosinski, claiming it was “manifestly harsh and excessive.”
Lawyer Peter Planetta argued before the Appeal Court last month that the sentencing judge improperly treated Souvannarath’s lack of remorse as an aggravating factor, erred in using terrorism sentences as comparators, and imposed a sentence that was grossly disproportionate to the sentence of co-conspirator Randall Steven Shepherd.
Shepherd, 24, of Halifax, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his involvement in the plot.
A three-member Appeal Court panel unanimously dismissed Souvannarath’s appeal in a decision released Wednesday.
“I do not agree that we should disturb the sentence,” Justice Anne Derrick wrote for a panel that also included Justice Cindy Bourgeois and Justice Jamie Saunders.
The conspiracy charge involved a plan to shoot members of the public at Halifax Shopping Centre on Valentine’s Day 2015.
Souvannarath planned to shoot up the mall’s food court with a 19-year-old Timberlea man named James Gamble, whom she had met online in December 2014. The couple shared a fascination with violence and death and idolized the 1999 Columbine, Colo., school shooters.
Gamble and Souvannarath planned to arm themselves with a hunting rifle and shotgun, respectively, and shoot as many people at the mall as possible before turning their weapons on each other. Gamble intended to finish off wounded survivors using a hunting knife.
Souvannarath was to fly to Halifax on Feb. 13, 2015, to meet up with Gamble and consummate their online relationship in advance of the mass shooting. By the time she arrived, Gamble would have shot and killed his parents.
Shepherd, who was friends with Gamble, declined an invitation to take part in the shooting but helped the others prepare. He scouted out the food court with Gamble, purchased a hacksaw and a can of gasoline and provided other materials needed to make Molotov cocktails for the attack.
Shepherd also agreed to meet Souvannarath at the Halifax airport, where they were arrested Feb. 13, 2015. Souvannarath had a “death suit” and books on serial killers in her luggage.
Police learned of the shooting plot through an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip. Gamble shot and killed himself Feb. 13 after officers surrounded his residence.
At the appeal hearing, Planetta said his client’s actions were “amateurish.”
The Appeal Court panel saw no reason to intervene in the maximum sentence imposed by the Supreme Court judge, who it said considered and weighed a broad range of relevant factors.
“Justice Rosinski took note of what Gamble and the appellant said in their last Facebook conversation,” Derrick wrote. “Gamble had the guns ready. The appellant’s arrival in Halifax was imminent. They were motivated and poised to strike as planned.
“And, being thwarted, as the appellant was here, does not lessen the gravity of her crime or diminish the degree of her culpability.”
Derrick said Rosinski made no error in giving Souvannarath a “significantly heavier” sentence than Shepherd had received.
“The appellant and Randall Shepherd simply cannot be described as ‘similar offenders’ who committed ‘similar offences’ in ‘similar circumstances,’” she said. “The disparity in their sentences was justifiable.”
In her conclusion, Derrick said: “It is impossible to know with complete certainty if the appellant and Gamble would have made it to the mall with the guns and Molotov cocktails. Speculation about whether they could have launched their murderous plan — transporting the guns on a bus or in a taxi — is an inappropriate exercise in the context of this appeal.
“The sentencing judge was entitled to determine the gravity of the conspiracy. He was required to decide what sentence would protect the public. That made it necessary for him to assess the appellant’s ongoing dangerousness. He did so.
“He was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt by the evidence that had the plan not been interrupted, the appellant and Gamble would have carried it out. He found no evidence that by the time of her sentencing, the appellant had abandoned or was reconsidering her deadly beliefs.”