Damon Crooks died in hospital after he was stabbed four times, including once in the heart. (CBC)

A Halifax man has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for the stabbing death of an American sailor outside a downtown bar in 2006.

Cory Wright, 25, was sentenced Friday for manslaughter for killing Damon Crooks.

Crooks's relatives were in Halifax to hear the decision.

"This court case, as far as we're concerned, is over with," said Corwin Gooden, Damon's brother. "As much time as Cory Wright spends in jail — even if it's life, it's not going to bring Damon back."

Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Felix Cacchione accepted the joint sentencing recommendation of 15 years, minus four years for time served. Wright must spend 5½ years in prison before he can apply for parole.

Cacchione told Wright to take a hard look at himself and warned that the road he's on "leads to hell."

But the case wasn't open and shut. If not for an admission from Wright, there might never have been a conviction.

Cacchione said no one actually saw Wright stab Crooks, and there were drunk witnesses and conflicting statements to police. He said the Crown would have had a tough time getting a guilty verdict for second-degree murder from a jury.

"It was a highly circumstantial case," prosecutor Darrell Martin admitted outside the courtroom.


Crooks' relatives say the slain sailor will be remembered as a hero. ((CBC))

Crooks, 28, from Jacksonville, Fla., was in Halifax with the USS Doyle on a training exercise when he was stabbed during a brawl on Argyle Street early on Nov. 4, 2006.

According to an agreed statement of facts, Crooks may have been trying to break up the fight.

Crooks and several shipmates left the bar and were standing outside when someone struck one of the sailors and tried to grab a chain. Before long, between 20 to 30 people were brawling on the street.

Wright, who had also been in the bar, got swept into the fighting. At some point, while his jacket was pulled over his head, he grabbed his pocket knife and started swinging. Crooks was stabbed four times, including once in the heart.

No one saw Wright stab Crooks, the court heard.

Before police arrived, Wright picked up several identification pieces of Crooks' and a cellphone belonging to Ricky Martin, one of the sailors. He was arrested shortly after when eyewitnesses pointed out several brawlers who were sitting in a red car.

Wright got out of the backseat and ran, but officers caught him with the help of a police dog.

Several people tried to help Crooks as he lay bleeding on the street. He died in hospital — two months before the birth of his daughter.

Gooden said the family saved Damon's uniforms for the little girl.

"We'll tell her her father is a hero," said Gooden. "He died saving somebody's life. I think that's the most honourable way anyone can die."

Wright was originally charged with first-degree murder. The charge was later reduced to second-degree murder. In March, when he was about to stand trial, Wright pleaded guilty to manslaughter after the Crown and the defence reached a deal.

Crooks's death touched off a public debate about violence in the city. Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly launched a round-table on violence and police increased foot patrols in the downtown area.

A report from the mayor's roundtable discussion was released in May 2008. Criminologist Don Clairmont made 64 recommendations, such as having a full-time public safety co-ordinator and a committee to improve race relations.