An Alberta man convicted of manslaughter for punching a bank manager in the head five times during an altercation in an Edson bar has been sentenced to three years in prison.
Chris Harrison was found guilty by a jury in May but waited almost six months to be sentenced for the Nov. 11, 2015, death of Preston Goulet.
At a sentencing hearing in Hinton last week, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Larry Ackerl noted that Goulet was drunk at the time of the altercation while Harrison was sober.
“Goulet was physically and verbally obnoxious, if not confrontational,” Ackerl said. “It is evident that at one point Mr. Goulet inappropriately touched Mr. Harrison in a sexual manner.”
Harrison told CBC News in September that he punched Goulet after the other man rubbed his crotch. He immediately delivered five fast punches to Goulet’s head. The medical examiner testified Goulet’s death was caused by the initial punch, which the judge determined was delivered with a closed fist.
“He literally took matters into his own hands,” Ackerl said. “The assault also occurred while Mr. Goulet was, at the very least, seated and Mr. Harrison standing. Mr. Goulet was physically disadvantaged and obviously intoxicated.”
During his interview in September, Harrison said he acted in self-defence.
That’s not how the jury saw it.
“I note the jury concluded the assault was not an act of self-defence,” Ackerl said.
The judge said he considered the degree of force used and the vulnerability of the victim as aggravating factors in determining a sentence.
Apology to the victim’s family
Harrison was asked if he had anything to say before sentence was passed.
“I would like to just speak directly to Preston’s family,” Harrison said. “I’m sorry that this happened.
“Every day since then, I’ve been tormented. And I have no doubt and I fear that every day for the rest of my life it will bother me, it will torment me. And I will be in therapy. And I will always regret that day.”
Ackerl later characterized Harrison’s expression of remorse as “genuine.”
Goulet’s mother, Debra Davidson, delivered a victim impact statement to the court.
“Half of my heart is gone,” she said. “Half my family is gone.”
Goulet was in hospital for three days before his family decided to allow doctors to take him off life support.
“I watched the life leave my son,” Davidson said. “I am living a nightmare.”
When Ackerl learned of Harrison’s Métis status, he ordered a Gladue report to examine his personal background as a factor in sentencing.
Harrison told the author of the report about his troubled childhood.
“I remember sleeping in bus shelters,” Harrison said. “Before my sister, my mom and I slept near a dumpster, in subway bathrooms.”
Harrison said he later moved to Toronto to live with his grandparents.
“They would make me drink, or get stoned, beat me, lock me in closets,” he said, according to the Gladue report.
The judge took those factors into consideration in passing sentence.
“Mr. Harrison has experienced foster care, homelessness, physical, emotional and sexual abuse,” Ackerl said. “To an extent, they diminish his moral blameworthiness for this offence. While they do not excuse his criminal conduct, they offer a necessary context to determine an appropriate sentence.”
The Crown had asked for a four-year sentence, while the defence requested a jail term of 12 to 18 months to be followed by probation.
The judge said he believes Harrison shows “promising prospects for rehabilitation.”