HALIFAX — The mentally ill man who killed a well-known gay rights activist in Halifax became angry before being sentenced to nearly eight years’ incarceration, shoving his translator into a railing and yelling inside the courtroom.
Andre Noel Denny, 36, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last November in the death of 49-year-old Raymond Taavel.
After a tumultuous sentencing hearing Thursday, Nova Scotia Supreme Court Judge Peter Rosinski gave Denny credit for nearly six years already served, leaving him with just under two years in custody followed by three years probation.
On the night of April 16, 2012, Denny had failed to return to a Halifax-area forensic psychiatric facility after receiving a one-hour unescorted pass. According to an agreed statement of facts, Denny got into an argument about seven hours later with Taavel outside a gay bar, punching him in the head and slamming his face into the pavement several times.
Rosinski said Thursday the assault was motivated by “generalized anger,” fuelled in part by Denny’s psychosis and abuse of crack cocaine and alcohol.
“I conclude that beyond a reasonable doubt, before Mr. Denny consumed crack cocaine and alcohol, he had the capacity to reason that such consumption would increase the likelihood of a violent episode on his behalf to the level of a real risk,” he said.
“Mr. Denny had a previous history which supports such inference … Nevertheless he chose to consume the crack cocaine and alcohol, and create the immediate conditions that contributed to his fatal attack on Mr. Taavel.”
Rosinski said Denny, an aboriginal from Membertou, N.S., remains a “significant threat to public safety.”
“The risk for further violence by Mr. Denny is significant,” he said in his decision.
Denny clutched a large black feather as he sat surrounded by court sheriffs listening to Rosinski’s decision.
At one point, Denny became angry, yelling that he wanted to take the stand to tell the judge “what the hell’s going on.”
He then forcefully pushed his translator, who had been sitting next to him, and said “I’m sick of you.” The man fell over into a railing.
Denny — wearing a bright blue zip-up sweater and glasses with his hair shaved on the sides of his head and closely cropped on top — was then escorted out of the courtroom.
After a brief recess, Denny’s translator sat in the gallery while Rosinski resumed reading his decision. Denny had another outburst about 45 minutes later.
Defence lawyer David Mahoney blamed Denny’s disruptions in the courtroom on his schizophrenia.
“He has mental illness and sometimes sitting for long periods of time in a situation like this cause a lot of stress,” said Mahoney, noting that Denny was able to calm down after each outburst while the court recessed.
Crown lawyer James Giacomantonio said Denny’s mental illness and the facts of the case made it a unique one.
“It created a complicated question for everybody involved to decide how culpable he is,” said Giacomantonio outside of court. “It was a very complicated thing to decide what an appropriate sentence is and how to treat him as an offender.”
Denny has been in custody at the East Coast Forensic Hospital since his arrest, and Rosinski has recommended that the remainder of his incarceration be served in a secure hospital.
It will be up to a review board to decide where Denny will serve the remainder of his sentence, said Mahoney. He said a hearing on the matter will likely be held early next month.
At a sentencing hearing last month, the Crown asked for a prison term of between seven and 10 years, while the defence asked for five to six years, which equates to time served.
Denny said during the hearing that he was “very remorseful for what happened that night.”
In December, the Nova Scotia government issued an apology to Taavel’s family. Health Minister Leo Glavine said a review identified significant gaps where improvements were required to ensure the protection of the general public.