Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Killing of Darcy Alan Shepherd by Michael Bryant

Recently Michael Bryant had all charges against him dropped for killing Darcy Alan Shepherd with his car. Apparently there was an important precedent used in this case as outlined by this NP article:

Decades-old ruling influenced decision to drop charges in Bryant case

The withdrawal of charges against Michael Bryant stems in large part from legal principles established in a three-decade old case involving an attempted robbery in Orillia, Ont.

Two men were fatally shot by Antonio Scopelliti, who owned a variety store and gas bar and claimed he was acting in self-defence. Mr. Scopelliti was acquitted at trial and the verdict was upheld in 1981 by the Ontario Court of Appeal. Previous acts of aggression by the two men were presented to support the self-defence claim, even though Mr. Scopelliti did not know about them when he fired his gun.

That case set out the rules on when a defendant can attack a victim’s character; yesterday, prosecutor Richard Peck referenced them as he outlined why he was withdrawing charges against Mr. Bryant.

The appeal court noted evidence of other aggressive behaviour by the deceased is not normally admissible. “Otherwise the deceased’s bad character may be put forward as a mere excuse for the killing,” it said.

But an exception can be made when the bad character evidence “reasonably assists” the jury in reaching a “just verdict,” such as when it is “so highly distinctive or unique as to carry a signature,” said the court.

It was this application of the numerous other confrontations that Mr. Sheppard allegedly had with motorists that led the prosecution to conclude it was a “signature” that would be front and centre at any trial of Mr. Bryant.

National Post

In the comments of this article was this post by willie719:

Is the McGuinty liberal party feeding the NP legal facts to make the case for charges being dropped or what? Incredibly, every media outlet in this country is on the same page. He was a drunk, he probably was stoned, he was an abused child, had fetal alcohol syndrom. Jesus, every excuse is offered as to why the DEAD MAN is to blame, and absolutely no hostility directed at the man who killed him. If I or anyone hit someone with my car, killed him, and I fled, I would be charged at the bare minumin with leaving the scene. Yet Bryant was not even charged with that. There is video evidence of it for christ sake. And yet the NP are making excuses for Bryant. At the very least, you might question how a former top liberal cabinet minister was not charged when a current liberal party he was a member of let him off.

Adam McDowell picks up on the social backdrop to this horrible incident:

Analysis: Bryant case highlights divide between south and north

By Adam McDowell May 26, 2010 – 7:00 am

Michael Bryant began rewriting his narrative on Tuesday.

In a polished, emotionally controlled address at a downtown hotel, he spoke for the first time about the night that changed his life, and took away the life of another man. He urged Torontonians to put aside the view of the fatal collision he was involved in last summer as a clash between different sectors of a city divided by class, politics and choice of vehicle.

“This has turned out to be a tale about addiction, mental health, an independent justice system and a couple out on their wedding anniversary driving home with the top down. It is not a morality play about bikes versus cars, couriers versus drivers, or one about class, privilege or politics,” he said.

“It’s just about how in 28 seconds, everything can change.”

Mr. Bryant, who became a Liberal MPP at the age of 33 and attorney-general at 37, was speaking to reporters a few hours after being unburdened of the charges against him of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death.

Special prosecutor Richard Peck was satisfied that bicycle courier Darcy Allan Sheppard, 33, bore the blame for the incident last August in which he died on Bloor Street. Mr. Sheppard grabbed onto Mr. Bryant’s car and was dragged some 100 metres.

Torontonians have argued ever since that night about whether Mr. Bryant was acting in self-defence when he reacted to what he called yesterday “a terrifying situation.” He evidently swerved into the oncoming lane to shake Mr. Sheppard, who was drunk and had a history of confrontations with drivers.

Mr. Bryant extended his “sympathies and sincere condolences” to the courier’s family and the assurance that “I have grieved that loss and always will.”

Indeed, much of Mr. Bryant’s statement to the media on Tuesday detailed his personal turmoil since the charges. He talked about gaining a new perspective on the justice system, “from its highest pedestal as attorney general to its pillory, a defendant handcuffed in the back of a squad car, accused of two very serious offences involving the tragic death of a man.”

Mr. Bryant said the “manically cheerful and audacious disposition” of his past was now tempered. He thanked his wife, entertainment lawyer Susan Abramovitch, for sticking with a “broken Bryant” who found himself suddenly unemployed last fall. He had stepped down from his seat in the wealthy midtown riding of St. Paul’s in May 2009 to run Invest Toronto, and quit that job after being charged.

He thanked the law firm Ogilvy Renault, “who hired me last December despite my being criminally indicted.” He works as a senior consultant for the firm and said he will continue to do so. He noted, gravely, that he has legal bills to pay.

On the streets and on elevators, Mr. Bryant said he has been met by people who sympathized with him: “‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ These were the words I heard again and again from people.”

Of course, Mr. Bryant does not receive such a warm reception everywhere in Toronto.

Regardless of the popular image of Torontonians as a homogeneous mass of latte-sipping liberals — as the cliché goes — the reality is that a divide exists between the granola greens and socialists of downtown and the Champagne liberals who live north of Bloor (to employ other overused, but useful, stereotypes).

Bloor Street often serves as the colloquial boundary between the comfortable midtown/uptown Toronto where Mr. Bryant lives, and the grittier, bustling sections of downtown, where Liberals are considered conservative and the bicycle has made the most headway against the car.

It is a not insignificant detail then, to note that the fateful collision occurred on Bloor Street, the stand-in for this dividing line in the city.

As such, many downtowners may side with, say, Yvonne Bambrick, executive director of the Toronto Cyclists Union. She showed up at Tuesday’s news conference to persuade reporters to watch grainy YouTube videos that she said prove Mr. Bryant nudged Mr. Sheppard, provoking their encounter.

Asked if she thought the police and courts are biased in favour of drivers over cyclists, Ms. Bambrick said, “On some level, yes,” and added, “I speak for thousands of Torontonians and people across the country who have been watching this case — I don’t think we’ve seen justice here.”

The late Mr. Sheppard’s father, Allan Sheppard, told reporters, “you get a different part of the justice system if you have power and money.”

But after seeming to echo the expected downtown view, he offered this more nuanced pronouncement: “The people who made the decisions, they heard me, they listened to me, they talked to me with great respect. They reached a decision that I’ll accept.”

While Mr. Bryant may live on the boundary between the affluent Deer Park and Forest Hill neighbourhoods, he spends much of his time downtown — enough to be on a first-name basis with shopkeepers in the hip-but-scruffy Trinity Bellwoods stretch of Queen Street. He buys his trademark colourful socks and ties there.

Walking with him along Queen Street for an interview last summer, it was evident he was equally conversant on competitive tax policy and the importance of quirky retail strips to the city’s economic health. It’s not every Toronto politician who can speak to uptown and downtown; Mr. Bryant, whose political career seemed destined to be smashed to pieces on Bloor Street last year, could be one of those who can.

National Post

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