Among vicious crimes, this one stood out: Two strong young men savagely beat and kicked a frail, ailing 59-year-old man to death, and then kicked, punched and taunted a woman who intervened to help him.
But, amazingly, the young men reservists in the Canadian military caught a huge break last week: the Crown accepted a plea bargain for manslaughter, enabling them to dodge the far more serious charge of second-degree murder.
The difference is significant. If they'd been found guilty of second-degree murder, they would have gone to jail for a minimum of 10 years with no possibility of parole. By contrast, manslaughter has no minimum sentence, and parole is often possible after serving one-third of the sentence.
So Pte. Brian Deganis and Cpl. Jeffrey Hall, who will be sentenced April 30, could, for instance, receive 10-year jail sentences, but qualify for parole after only three years. (A third man pleaded guilty as an accessory after the fact.)
It's hard to imagine these two young men getting such a lucky break if their victim hadn't been homeless.
In allowing them to plead guilty to the lesser charge, veteran Crown prosecutor Hank Goody cited the fact that they were intoxicated during the crime, and therefore possibly unable to appreciate the consequences of their actions.
True, intoxication can be used as a defence, but it rarely succeeds with juries. Toronto criminal lawyer Clayton Ruby notes that juries are particularly unlikely to accept the defence of drunkenness where there's a series of blows leading to a death, suggesting a co-ordinated assault. In this case, the jury never got to pass judgment.
Rather than a random act of drunken violence, the killing of Paul Croutch sounds almost like a hate crime against the homeless.
According to testimony at the trial, Deganis, before attacking Croutch in the middle of the night, had attempted to attack another person in a bus shelter and, during the attack on Croutch, Deganis shouted he "hated bums and homeless people and wanted to take them on."
The woman who intervened said Deganis thrust his military tags in her face and screamed: "This gives us the right to kill all the homeless bums, crackheads, whores."
Did these men somehow feel their military affiliation entitled them to behave like thugs?
This raises the disturbing possibility that these young reservists considered the Rambo-like posture of Canada's top general, Rick Hillier, gave them a licence to behave aggressively.
Certainly Hillier who announced his retirement last week to much fawning in the media set a very different tone for the Canadian Forces, referring to the enemy in Afghanistan as "detestable murderers and scumbags" and suggesting the role of the Canadian military is to "be able to kill people."
For that matter, is it likely that this crime would have happened if our society as a whole didn't communicate contempt for the homeless by treating them as subhuman, abandoning them to sleep on metal grates in frigid temperatures?
Finally, it should be noted that the killers got a rather soft ride in the media. Last Friday, the Globe and Mail ran a front-page story by Christie Blatchford suggesting the courtroom tears of the killers showed they felt genuine remorse.
It's hard to imagine the Globe running such a sympathetic front-page story if, say, it had been two drunken young homeless men viciously killing a retired military officer, while shouting anti-war slogans.
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