Lawyer who attacked family in St. Thomas with a baseball bat won't be going to jail
Mark Phillips was suffering from a drug-induced psychosis at the time of the December incident
The Toronto lawyer who attacked a St. Thomas, Ont. family with a baseball bat and called them terrorists was suffering from a drug-induced psychosis at the time of the incident, his lawyer and psychiatrist say.
Mark Phillips, 36, pleaded guilty to one count of assault causing bodily harm in a St. Thomas court Tuesday. He was given a conditional discharge with three years probation.
With his mental health declining in the preceding months and weeks, Phillips smoked three or four joints before driving to London and then to nearby St. Thomas on Dec. 7, 2017, getting into arguments with people he believed to be Muslims targeting him along the way, his lawyer Steven Skurka told Justice John Skowronski.
A psychiatrist who has been working with Phillips since his arrest said the personal injury lawyer "had no insight that his marijuana use was affecting his mental state." Once he stopped smoking, Phillips was able to have clear thoughts, the psychiatrist wrote in a report.
In it, Phillips is seen lunging at the Estepa family, wild-eyed and demanding, while wielding a baseball bat.
"What I did was irrational, irresponsible and deeply unacceptable," Phillips said in a letter read out in court. "I'm horrified and embarrassed and I feel ashamed."
Family testifies the attack has left them with 'scar'
Sergio Estepa, who came to Canada 18 years ago to live a life free of violence, sustained cracked ribs after being struck by the bat when he stepped in to protect his 13-year-old son, Nick.
Nick Estepa said he felt helpless in that parking lot.
"Watching my dad get beat by a baseball bat took my heart away," he said.
"Before this incident I was nobody in this town. Now, I'm the guy who was the victim of the bat attack. I don't want to be remembered that way," the younger Estepa told the court.
Sergio's wife and Nick's mom, Mari Zambrano, also read a tearful victim impact statement in court. She said the family has been living in fear since the attack.
Zambrano said she really didn't want charges to be laid because she wanted the incident behind her. She said it's been consuming the family.
"This scar is with us for good," she told the court. "We came to Canada to live in a country without war, violence."
''This is not Canada,' judge says
When delivering his sentence, Skowronski praised the Estepa family for having the courage to speak up.
"Canada is a country of immigrants with different names, different accents, different skin colours. That's what built Canada, why people want to come here, why people who are here are proud to be here. Events like this take the shine off that," he said.
But he agreed with the Crown and defence that Phillips actions weren't a hate crime. Instead, the marijuana Phillips smoked made his deteriorating mental health even worse, the judge agreed. Phillips' parents told his doctor they noticed him getting paranoid and having strange delusions in the weeks leading up to the December incident.
"To the Estapa family, I say this is not normalcy," the judge said. "This is an aberration that took place because of a mental illness."
Probation includes other measures
The three years probation given to Phillips includes 240 hours of community service, working with immigrants if possible. Phillips must also seek counselling and is not allowed to come to Elgin County unless for business.
The probation order means he is not allowed to use "non-prescription drugs or marijuana," even when it's legal this summer.
Phillips will have no criminal record after he completes the terms of his probation. He's already volunteering at a food bank, the court was told.
Crown Lisa Defoe had asked for a suspended sentence, which would have included probation and community service — but also a criminal record.
Both lawyers did agree the incident was not a hate crime and that a jail sentence was not necessary.
Phillips is a member a legendary Toronto family
Phillips is the great-grandson of Nathan Phillips, a popular Toronto mayor after whom a public square in front of Toronto city hall is named.
Like his great grandfather, Phillips also chose law as a profession. He is a personal injury lawyer.
Ten days after his arrest, Phillips was released on $5,000 with his parents acting as sureties.