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A Life Sentence
Mona Lam-Deslippe sits with her husband Tim in their living room in north London. It’s a typical living room, a typical house, what could have appeared to be a typical life. The room was recently tidied, family pictures on the walls. The kitchen is just off to the left, it’s perhaps a little cluttered but who doesn’t fall behind on some household cleaning from time to time? Most of the home is unassuming. Typical.
What’s not typical is the two television cameras staring at the couple. What’s not typical is the shrine to their son upon the piano in the corner. An array of items such as bowties, hats, sunglasses, pictures, and notes. What’s not typical is the grief housed within the walls.
“I just miss him,” she says, breaking the silence, emotion throughout her voice.
The “him” was her son Nathan. On August 28, 2016 Nathan Deslippe, then 27-years-old, was violently murdered within his own apartment by a man he considered one of his best friends. To this day, following a trial, a conviction, a sentencing, not much is really known about what went on in that apartment beyond the physical evidence. Only one person holds the answers.
“To hear that it was Will, it didn’t make sense, we’re not quite sure what happened,” says Tim Deslippe, Nathan’s father.
William Joles, 29, (pictured below) was convicted of second degree murder in May of 2018 for the death of Nathan. Throughout the trial the family learned the violent and often horrific details of exactly how their son died.
Recap: The Trial of William Joles
They heard how there was some sort of disagreement. They heard how Will trampled their son. How their son likely lived for a few hours after the beating. How his killer took a shower over his body. How Will took a naked photo of himself following the murder. How there was blood throughout the apartment. Some of this was new information, some they had seen firsthand.
“There was purple everywhere… it was difficult cleaning out the apartment,” says Tim referencing the agent used to clean up blood in crime scenes. Ultimately it falls on the family to gather their loved ones things. For Tim and Mona it meant seeing firsthand the amount of violence that happened that night.
“For someone who was such a non-violent person to die such a violent death is unthinkable,” said Tim.
For more than two years it has been about trying to get answers, trying to understand why their son was taken from them. They even at times had to question what they knew about their son.
“I asked the detective...is there anything that we didn’t know, that would give any, shed any light on any of this? They said to me that Nathan was the person we knew him to be, that he wasn’t doing anything he shouldn’t have been,” Mona reflected.
That may have been, and continues to be the hardest part for the Deslippe family, not truly understanding why.
It’s this reality that the family would go through over the next two years that most of us will never experience in our lifetimes. We’re shocked, we’re horrified, we feel as we read stories or watch television reports from the trials and sentencings, but then for us it’s over, on to the next one, on with life.
For the Deslippe family this is their reality. Their life sentence.
“He was always very dedicated to family”
From a young age Nathan had formed a special bond with his mother.
“‘When I grow up I don’t want to leave you,’” Mona recalled him saying once when he was a young child. “It was a cute conversation.”
Watch here, the funeral of Nathan Deslippe.
Mona smiled as she explained that Nathan would always rearrange his schedule if a family event came up, and truly he did stay close by working alongside his mother for eight years.
They were actually working together the last time Mona saw her son.
“We ended up working through the afternoon, but his phone was always on the go, his friends were trying to get a hold of him, I said ‘Nathan if you want to go I’m ok it’s fine.’ He said, ‘I don’t need to see them, I want to spend time with you.’”
It would be eight days later that Mona was supposed to see Nathan again, instead while in Toronto with family she received a call no one expects to get.
Tim had gone to pick Nathan up from his downtown apartment on Colborne Street to take him to Toronto. When he arrived he saw police on scene but didn’t think much of it. Nathan wasn’t responding to his texts so he decided to head up to his floor, once on his floor he was met by several officers who then took Tim back down to the main floor.
From there Tim and Mona’s lives would never be the same. For several hours all police could tell Tim was that there was a victim and a person in custody and they couldn’t confirm who was which. However, that feeling of dread was there, that feeling of knowing, even when Tim made the call to his wife who was in Toronto.
"I said, ‘Are you trying to tell me that my son is dead?’ and he said ‘well at this point we don’t have confirmation,’” Mona recalled, tears in her eyes.
By the end of the day they would know for sure. Facebook posts were made by friends, word began to spread. By 11 p.m. Nathan’s name would be on the news as the victim of a homicide. A new definition, a new label, a new reality.
Kaitlyn Chau, who considered Nathan a brother, remembers what it was like that day for the family.
“I will never forget her (Mona) saying I think my son is dead,” said Kaitlyn. Mona asked her to go to Tim, as Mona was still in Toronto now trying to figure out what to tell her family there, meanwhile her daughter Jessica, Nathan’s sister, was out east with friends.
That trip would be cut short, as all efforts were made to get Jessica home. For Kaitlyn it was just about keeping it all together for the family.
“Jessica’s out on the east coast, Mona’s in Toronto,Tim’s here and I was just trying to help be that central hub,” said Kaitlyn.That day would begin a nearly two year journey, filled with detectives, victim services, questions, pre-trial, trial, sentencing, to now with it all completed trying to find a way forward.
“It was horrible”
The trial of William Joles began on May 7, 2018, a little under two years since Nathan’s death. It would conclude with Joles being found guilty of Second Degree Murder. He would be sentenced to life in prison with a chance of parole after 14 years less time served, which means he can apply for parole by 2029.
For a full recap of the case follow this link.
What the Deslippe’s had to endure through the trial and sentencing was a complete reliving of what happened to their son. New details would come out, they would have to sit and listen to the account of the man who killed their son.
“It was horrible it was just really horrible,” Mona says of the trial.
The trial would last a little under two weeks. Throughout it the family sat through testimony from Joles, from police, from Ashley Charters. Charters is the other victim from the case. She was called by Joles following the beating of Nathan to come to the apartment. There she would be held by Joles, assaulted, and threatened before escaping and calling police.
There were photos of the scene, gruesome descriptions of how Nathan died. They heard how he was likely alive for some time following the beating before finally succumbing to his injuries.
It was nearly two years since their son had died and they were still living through day one of their grief. Their lives had become about that day. Everyone processes grief in their own way but for most of us when we lose a loved one we do not have a societal system shoving the day of loss in our face over and over again. It becomes a real challenge to move forward when everything forces attention to one moment in time.
Perhaps naively then it was assumed that the trial and sentencing would offer some sort of closure, no matter how horrible of an experience it would be.
As their daughter Jessica put it, “Once the trial happens, once the verdict happens it then becomes the past, and then there’s a way forward,” but it may not be that simple.
"Intellectually knowing what happened is one thing," Jessica says, "But having it described to you where you can now visually picture what happened, that's probably been the biggest thing...That's something that just stays with you."
What happens when the trial fails to answer the questions? What happens when the sentencing does not feel fair? What happens when the Deslippe’s learn that this is never truly over for them if they want to ensure that William Joles remains behind bars?
“We have to monitor this man for the rest of our lives?”
Nearly two years after the death of Nathan a small crowd of people gather quietly, away from the eyes of the public to say a final goodbye.
It’s hot, it’s the middle of July after all and everyone gathers to what shade they can find near the gravesite. For a family who had gone through the last two years publicly, much of it by choice, this was a private moment. It was time to finally bury Nathan.
In a twist of irony, whether perhaps cruel or fitting, police were able to release Nathan’s brain to the family soon after the trial, having kept it for evidence. This was not something the family expected to happen for sometime. However, as they learned throughout the trial and sentencing, there was a lot they never expected to happen. Being able to say goodbye and officially bury the man loved by so many could offer a sense of closure for those still affected nearly two years later.
A small display of personal and cherished items is set up, and the crowd stands in a circle. One by one family and friends share some of their favourite memories of Nathan, his favourite quotes and inspirational sayings are read aloud and placed in the vault. A song written in his honour is played. In many ways it was a beautiful moment, fitting for a man beloved by so many. In this moment this looks like any other burial or life celebration, but in many ways, it is also just the beginning of the grieving and healing process.
“With Nathan there's things that keep coming up, that you relive the trauma of his death. You can never ever forget because these events make you think back. It was so graphic that you just can't get that out of your mind. So that's where we have a life sentence. It will never truly go away. ”
When it comes to the years moving forward Tim is correct that it won't fully go away. For the Deslippe’s the process never truly ends.
“We can supply impact statements when he applies for parole, but I was thinking to myself, well you've just sentenced us to a lifetime imprisonment,” says Mona, and in many ways she is not wrong.
The story of Nathan’s murder will fade in public perception as media and time moves on. However, Joles will one day be up for parole. When that time comes the responsibility will once again fall on the shoulders of the Deslippe’s to submit impact statements. They will have to do this every year once Joles is eligible for parole.
While the Deslippe’s praise the community and find solace in friends and their support, the reality is if they need any professional assistance in the years to come that cost burden lies with them.
The change from before the trial and verdict to after is noticeable. Before the trial the emphasis was on the confusion of not knowing and needing answers, now that has been replaced with a sense of anger, or unfairness.
It’s unfair their son was taken from them. It’s unfair he died in the way he did. It’s unfair they may never truly understand why. It’s unfair they had to take on the mantle for a community in mourning when they themselves needed to mourn. It’s unfair they now will have to continue with the parole process in the years to come.
They could tell you any detail about how the court system functions, as to how it all works, and yet at the end of the day there is little understanding as to why Joles got the sentence he did.
“When they say life sentence what does that really mean?” Mona says, We had to learn about that."
Watch here, the sentencing of William Joles.
For Tim now nearly two years later the sense of loss and anger is as strong as ever. You can hear it in his voice when he talks of moving on, when he talks of his purpose.
“At this point I don't know," says Tim. "You lose your purpose for moving forward."
“Sometimes it’s one breath at a time”
We must all move on from loss and death, it is a part of being human, but so few of us could ever understand what it means to move on from a death of this nature.
How does a family move forward from their loss when their loss is set up to define the rest of their lives? How do you put one foot forward each day when those steps are bringing you closer to another impact statement in the years to come? These are the types of questions the Deslippe’s grapple with.
For them, the answer lies in community. In the events they organize in memory of their son, in the memorial fund now set up in his name.
For Mona the lesson has been that life will be what it will be.
“At this point there’s nothing more that they can do to my son…” she says, “there’s really not much more life can do to me...life will do what it will.”
Nathan’s death will likely always be a part of them. Only they will know how it has and might affect them in the years to come, but it’s important to them that people know it does not define them, and more importantly it does not define Nathan.
Nathan was 27-years-old when he died, a moment cannot take away from 27 years of life. Nothing could be more evident by the turn out to community events; the more than 57,000 posts online in tribute to him; the 43 impact statements heard in court.
Nathan was a force in life, and he remains a force now. Simply through his name and memory he is affecting change in the community. The Nathan T. Deslippe Foundation is working on several projects in and around London, championing ideals important to Nathan.
One such project is a concrete ping pong table being built at East Lions Park next year. Nathan has had about 100 trees planted in his name as part of Reforest London, and to date the memorial fund has grown to more than $30,000.
Nathan’s memory lives on through the community he worked so hard to be a part of and to make better. That is where the Deslippe’s would like the focus to be. They welcome talking about their son. They don’t want to talk about his death, but rather his life, and who he was.
“You know I want to tell people, talk to us about Nathan," starts Mona, "help us keep his memory alive, it's important to us to know that he's not forgotten, that he still means something to people other than just us."
And while as Mona puts it, “Sometimes it’s one day at a time, sometimes it's an hour a time, sometimes a minute. There's times where it's a breath at a time,” but perhaps keeping Nathan’s spirit alive can change their life sentence, to a life commitment.