At his sentencing hearing Monday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, Andre Denny apologized to the family and friends of the man he beat to death almost four years ago.

"I am very remorseful ... I am sorry to the Taavel family for what I have caused them, pain and suffering," he said.

The day was a sombre affair, as family and friends of gay rights activist Raymond Taavel told the court how Taavel's death has hurt them. 

"How could such a hug-loving guy die in such a violent manner?" Andre Taavel, Raymond Taavel's brother, wrote in a victim impact statement read in a Halifax courtroom Monday.

It has been almost four years since Raymond Taavel was beaten to death on Gottingen Street in central Halifax. Denny admitted to killing Taavel and pleaded guilty to manslaughter in November.

"A piece of us died that day," Andre Taavel wrote. The Crown read his statement into the record.

His family has been devastated by the death. Andre Taavel said his sister was stricken with uncontrollable grief and still can't discuss what happened.  

Taavel's death an ongoing nightmare

NS Assault Death 20120417

Raymond Taavel was beaten to death on Gottingen Street in 2012. (The Canadian Press/Shambhala Sun-Marvin Moore)

Darren Lewis, Raymond Taavel's partner for 10 years, also submitted a statement, read to the court by the Crown. In the statement Lewis recounted how he felt when he learned of Taavel's death. 

"My vision blurred, my chest tightened, my breath left me."  

Lewis describes Taavel's death as an ongoing nightmare. He and Taavel were planning on buying a house together. Instead, Lewis said he is trying to heal a hole in his heart.

Besides hearing from Taavel's loved ones, the court also watched a security video from inside Menz bar that shows Taavel just moments before he was attacked. 

A YouTube video was also shown. It played at Taavel's funeral and was played to the court to highlight the impact Taavel's life and death had in the community.  

When the victim impact statements wrapped up, Crown prosecutor Mark Heerema began his sentencing argument. He described the crime as a vicious, gratuitous beating that was senseless and unprovoked. 

The CBC's Blair Rhodes is tweeting from the hearing.

On the night Taavel was killed, Denny was being held at the East Coast Forensic Hospital, having been found not criminally responsible for a violent assault in his native Cape Breton.

Denny was AWOL from the hospital at the time of Taavel's death. Denny had been given a one hour pass to go to the edge of the hospital property to smoke a cigarette. He and two other men failed to return as scheduled.

Guilty plea in November

Denny was originally charged with second-degree murder. In an abrupt change, he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter during a court appearance in November.

During that appearance, court was given a brief synopsis of how Taavel died.

The court heard that Denny fought with two men that night in 2012, one of whom was Taavel. Denny punched Taavel twice in the head knocking him down. 

The court was told once Taavel was on the ground, Denny kicked him in the head and then slammed his face several times into the pavement.

Denny then turned his attention to the second man who fled. Denny returned to Taavel, who was motionless on the pavement.

Denny slammed Taavel's head four to five more times into the ground, court heard. A passing motorist called 911. Once police arrived, a canine unit found Denny in a nearby alley.

History of aggression and unpredictability

In court documents, Denny is described as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. He is also described as being grossly psychotic with a history of aggressive impulsivity and unpredictability.

In court today, the defence recommended a sentence of 5 to 6 years and a weapons ban of 10 years.

Denny's lawyer argued his client's mental illness made him less morally to blame for the crime.

The Crown argued Denny's crime was close to murder and recommended a sentence of between 7 to 10 years and a lifetime weapons ban.

Denny is getting six years credit for the time he's already spent in custody, so a sentence falling within the defence's recommendation would mean Denny has already served his time. However, he would still be held in the forensic hospital for being found not criminally responsible for a previous crime. 

Denny was supposed to go to trial on the murder charge in September 2014. But on the trial's opening day, Denny fired his lawyer, derailing the proceeding. It was the second time he fired his lawyer.

The original prosecutor assigned to the file has since retired.

Taavel's family and common-law partner have launched a civil lawsuit against Denny, Capital District Health and the province, alleging negligence.

In December, Nova Scotia's Health Minister, Leo Glavine, issued a formal apology to the Taavel family for the lapses which contributed to Taavel's death.

Denny will be sentenced on March 24.