Nanaimo man found guilty in death of drug dealer will spend two years less a day in jail

John Albert Buchanan will serve two years less a day for manslaughter in the 2017 death of Richard Sitar, his primary source of drugs at the time.

Buchanan, whose sentencing hearing was held Tuesday in Nanaimo, was initially charged with second-degree murder in the death, which was caused by blunt-force trauma to the head.

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The B.C. Supreme Court judgment by Justice Robin Baird described Buchanan as “a heroin and methamphetamine addict and a small-time burglar and thief,” and Sitar as “a local drug dealer and, by all accounts, a prolific thief and property fence.”

In handing down the sentence, Baird noted that Buchanan has made progress in dealing with addiction issues. The overall sentence was for six years and 4.5 months, but the equivalent of four years and 4.5 months that Buchanan served in pretrial detention brings new prison time down to two years less a day and keeps him in the provincial system.

He will also serve two years of probation, and is bound to complete any programs directed by his probation officer, such as counselling, and anger-management or substance-abuse programs.

Baird’s reasons for judgment described Buchanan as having “a dysfunctional and morbidly dependent relationship with Mr. Sitar” and being a frequent visitor to his apartment.

“The accused was his servant or client, and he was invariably on the receiving end of physical and verbal abuse from Mr. Sitar.”

A few weeks before his death, Sitar attacked Buchanan with pepper spray in an incident that appeared to be “nasty, gratuitous, excessive and totally unprovoked,” the judgment said.

Considerable evidence in the case was obtained from surveillance-camera footage from Sitar’s apartment building and the surrounding area, including the Balmoral Hotel.

Video confirmed that Buchanan visited Sitar in his apartment on Sept. 11, 2017. Several hours later Sitar was found wounded on a couch. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Buchanan was arrested Sept. 13. The next day, he told an undercover officer in his cell that his friend Rick had been “piped by someone” and he was being blamed.

He said Sitar had his head smashed in, and he was already dead when he arrived.

A cellmate who was with Buchanan at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre told the court Buchanan told him at least 10 versions of what happened.

Ultimately, he said, he was told by Buchanan that he hit Sitar with a bat when he didn’t have the drugs he had paid for — having used them himself — and also threatened his girlfriend.

Buchanan hid the bat in his sleeve and left, the cellmate said, and took some of the stolen items Sitar had in the suite.

But in a letter to the Nanaimo RCMP in February 2020, Buchanan said two other men were responsible. He wrote that he had his problems with Sitar but didn’t kill him.

In court, Buchanan introduced the notion that the two men used a ladder to get into Sitar’s suite and then kill him.

The judgment called the ladder story “a blatant and rehearsed concoction” created well after the crime took place.

In deciding on manslaughter as the offence, Baird said he found that Buchanan did not have violence on his mind when he entered Sitar’s apartment.

“That the accused suddenly and rapidly lost control of his emotions as a result of Mr. Sitar’s wrongful acts and insults cannot, in my mind, be doubted.”

He said provocation is not an excuse or justification, but is a matter of mitigation.

Baird said the last meeting between Buchanan and Sitar “comprised one torment too many for the accused.”

“He comprehensively lost his temper and committed a grisly and horrible crime as a result.”

jbell@timescolonist.com

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