REGINA, SASKATCHEWAN – CANADA.
Dustin LaFortune was a handsome young man, who set out from the Canadian city of Winnipeg to build a new life for himself. When his loved ones saw him next Dustin was almost unrecognisable, after having faced an ordeal that would leave him changed in every possible way. His hopes for the future would be torn asunder by a friend, who was also named Dustin.
Lead up to Crime
Dustin Paxton, 30, had been on the police radar since his teens. His father placed him in the care of social services when he was 12, disowning him and his bad behaviour. He quickly became involved in drugs and alcohol, establishing a juvenile record. In 2007 he appeared on Canada’s Crime Stoppers Most Wanted list, and he had a criminal history of credit card fraud.
“He was in jail, in and out, in Winnipeg, in Regina, in Calgary — he was always in trouble,” Paxton’s aunt told a Canadian newspaper.
Dustin LaFortune grew up in Winnipeg as part of a large family, free from the influences of television, sugar, and violence. He had been in a four-year relationship with Lindsay Airhart, which resulted in one child. After they broke up the pair remained friends, living with each other for a further two years. Dustin LaFortune, a lumberyard foreman and weightlifter, decided to set out for a new life by travelling 1,300 kilometres (808 miles) from Winnipeg to Calgary. He joined up with acquaintance Dustin Paxton, who he had met three years earlier.
The two Dustins soon became roommates and worked together to establish their furniture moving business, Two Guys and a Truck. The business was registered to 4203 Centre Street Northwest, in Calgary, where a motley crew of friends also gathered regularly to drink, and smoke marijuana and crystal meth.
Paxton began abusing LaFortune in October 2008. The abuse started when LaFortune backed up a chair against an extension cord. Paxton reacted by hitting LaFortune in the head with a steel capped boot for 10-15 minutes. He apologised the next day. Neighbours noticed LaFortune’s face was swollen, resembling a grapefruit.
Abraham Chutta, 19, also worked for Paxton and shared the Centre Street house for a short period. Paxton’s abuse against Chutta started with arguing, which escalated to slapping, then punching, to being hit with a police baton and whipped with a dog leash. Abraham was dragged from his room, forced to sit on the couch with LaFortune, as Paxton beat the pair.
“He held a knife to me and said if I ever tried to leave he would kill my family,” said Chutta. He fled in 2009 but refused to press charges at the time.
During his stay in Calgary, LaFortune’s ex-girlfriend, Lindsay Airhart, visited him. She described how Paxton controlled LaFortune and allowed him to eat only one meal a day. She asked him to leave with her, but he refused.
In September 2009, LaFortune was admitted to hospital in Calgary suffering from broken ribs, allegedly caused by a freezer falling on him. Once released, LaFortune became impossible to find, his phone and emails went unanswered.
In February 2010 a seven-minute phone call was made to 911, reporting an assault taking place at the Centre Street premises. No police were dispatched after the 911 call-centre, operated by the City of Calgary, received the call. Other calls were made in January and April of 2010.
Dustin LaFortune’s family first reported him missing on February 28, 2010, but were told their missing persons report didn’t warrant an investigation. In early March, Airhart’s father received a phone call. “He sounded like death.”
In early 2010 the pair travelled to Regina, the capital city of the Saskatchewan Province in Canada’s mid-south — a city with a booming economy due to the oil industry, and surrounded by rich prairies that support agriculture.
Paxton and LaFortune moved into a three-storey brown brick apartment building named Elmwood Manor, at 2158 Halifax Street, Regina.
Neighbours didn’t see the pair, and weren’t even certain of who was living in the apartment rented in LaFortune’s name, but they did hear a great deal. A down stairs neighbour reported hearing low distressed groans each morning, which escalated into the sounds of one-sided fights. He would hear screaming, and a male yelling such things as, “Open your eyes,” followed by violent noises. When neighbours complained, Paxton threatened them with violence.
Over the course of 18-months, in Calgary and Regina, Paxton had victimised LaFortune, beating him daily, often with a whip or bamboo cane. LaFortune was held captive, choked unconscious, thrown through drywalls and down stairs, and suffered sustained sexual assaults. LaFortune was forced to perform sex acts on Paxton to avoid physical abuse. A section of flesh on LaFortune’s leg died from being repeatedly whipped.
Lindsay Airhart received a text message stating LaFortune was on a farm in Leduc, Alberta, and had no phone access. It was believed Paxton sent the text message, during the same period as he ensured LaFortune was incapable of leaving the Halifax Street address for over two months.
Dustin LaFortune failed to attend his cousins wedding, increasing the concern of his family. He appeared in public two days later, bearing little resemblance to the young man anyone once knew.
A man claiming to be LaFortune’s cousin brought Dustin, now 26, to the Regina General Hospital on the morning of April 16, 2010. LaFortune’s injuries were extensive; he was not expected to live and was placed on life support. He was emaciated, weighing only 41 kilograms, down from 113 (90 pounds from 250). His body was covered in lacerations, burns, and bruises. His ribs were broken, along with his skull. His face had been beaten and mutilated beyond recognition, his bottom lip cut off, his tongue missing, and his eye orbits broken. LaFortune displayed obvious signs of an acquired brain injury.
It took a month before LaFortune could speak. The injuries were so severe that LaFortune had trouble remembering what had happened to him. As he recovered the horrific memories came flooding back. “I just remember everything now,” he said.
LaFortune stated that he didn’t leave earlier as he was afraid of being perceived as a “sissy,” because of intense fear, and because the brain injury he received from Paxton clouded his thinking.
“He was such a scary guy,” LaFortune said about Paxton. “And so manipulative.”
The hospital drop-off was caught on security camera. The manhunt was on for Dustin Paxton.
Paxton was arrested in Edmonton, Alberta, on August 22, 2010. Police launched a raid on the bungalow he was renting, sending in the tactical unit and the Fugitive Apprehension Sheriff Support Team.
He was charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of forcible confinement. Paxton was also charged with the unlawful confinement of an ex-girlfriend, dating back to 2001.
Regina police and the court went to great lengths to keep details of the case suppressed, although many details were already published on the internet.
Paxton’s trial began on September 27, 2010. He smirked in court as the charges were read against him. The trial was scheduled to last for five weeks, but lasted four months.
Paxton was found guilty of aggravated and sexual assault, but found not guilty of unlawful confinement. The court believed LaFortune could have escaped if he wanted. Justice Sheilah Martin read that the court understood “why Dustin LaFortune didn’t leave, but there is a difference . . . between domination and confinement.”
Paxton was also found guilty of uttering threats and assault with a weapon against Abraham Chutta.
Paxton was ordered to undergo further psychological evaluation, and undergo a “dangerous offender hearing” that could see him imprisoned indefinitely. The trial is due to commence on July 15, 2013, and should last four weeks.
Dustin LaFortune will require many more operations, including reconstructive surgery to his face, therapy for his acquired brain injury, and long-term psychological assistance.
“I still think the same about humans — that humans are capable of everything good. They’re also capable of everything bad, too. You’ve just got to be smart enough to figure out one from the other,” said LaFortune.
Because of his appearance Dustin waited before seeing his daughter, careful to make sure she was psychologically prepared to see him. The family engaged the help of social workers and trauma counsellors before the reunion. He continues rehabilitation under the care of his family and doctors in Victoria, Canada, at Victoria General Hospital. When returning home Dustin stated his aims included attending college and one day owning another business.
On February 1, 2012, the LaFortune family requested the media respect their privacy.
By David Phoebe