A 55-year-old convicted drunk driver from Nova Scotia is free after pleading guilty to breaching an order that forbids him from entering liquor stores.
Michael Gerard Cooper has been in custody since Jan. 28, when he wandered into a Halifax liquor store in breach of his conditions. That was one week after he was released from prison following a seven-year sentence for causing the deaths of a young Cape Breton couple — Angela Smits and her boyfriend Michael MacLean.
On Thursday, Judge Barbara Beach sentenced Cooper to time served and released him.
The court heard that Cooper was on his cellphone talking to his brother when he walked into the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation store on Mumford Road in January.
In a statement read in court, Cooper claimed he was distracted and didn't realize his mistake until it was too late.
When asked to explain himself, Cooper said in a booming voice, "Brain damage."
According to a mental health assessment report done by a psychiatrist at the East Coast Forensic Hospital, Cooper sustained serious brain injury in the car crash in 2004 that killed Smits and MacLean — a crash Cooper caused while driving drunk.
The report said Cooper was fit to stand trial and not exempt from criminal responsibility due to mental illness, but said he suffered significant brain damage, making it difficult for him to adapt to independent community living.
Crown attorney Susan MacKay said the psychiatrist's report detailed Cooper's problems coping with life outside prison.
"It's clear that it seems to be a situation where his motives for doing and saying things in the past were attributed to a bad attitude, where it appears there is actually a brain injury that's affecting his ability to function in the community in an appropriate way," she said.
"Knowing that now, I think some members of the public may think about this situation a little bit differently than they had before."
The psychiatrist has already asked the Department of Community Services to assess Cooper's needs, saying he can't function without supervision and support.
As part of his release conditions, Cooper is prohibited from consuming, purchasing, or possessing alcohol for two years and entering any place alcohol is sold or consumed.