A suspended Halifax lawyer convicted of sexual assault has been sentenced to three years in prison in a case that sparked protests from some who say it reflects the justice system's bias against black men.
In addition to the prison sentence, Lyle Howe's name will go on the national sex offender registry. He must also give a DNA sample and faces a 20-year weapons ban.
Howe, a black lawyer with a public profile in the city, was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman on March 20, 2011. He was found not guilty of administering a stupefying substance when the jury delivered its verdict in May.
He was charged after the woman accused him of raping her while she was passed out in her Fairview apartment. Howe maintained the sex was consensual, but the Crown argued she was impaired and did not give consent.
Before he was sentenced in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, Howe told the courtroom he was embarrassed.
"I'm certainly not proud of what I did," said Howe. "I'm embarrassed by it. I am remorseful."
In handing down the sentence, Chief Justice Joseph Kennedy noted this could very well destroy Howe's law career. He praised both the jury and the victim, who spent days on the stand recounting what happened.
The three-year prison sentence was a joint recommendation from the Crown and Howe's defence lawyer.
'It was a witch hunt'
As Howe was led from the courtroom, his supporters shouted that it was a sad day for justice.
"As I said from the beginning it was a mockery of justice, it was a witch hunt," said David Sparks, one of Howe's supporters.
"I thought his defence was there to defend him, you know. Not to get in bed with the Crown. The fact that they joined together and decided to come up with a recommendation and then get in court and argue his case. What was the point of arguing his case if they've already decided on three years?"
Phil Star, Howe's lawyer, said he believed the sentence was appropriate.
"We didn't want to see him sentenced to something higher. We thought, with respect, it was the low end of the range," he said.
Howe's conviction triggered a rally last month outside the courthouse where his supporters voiced their doubts about the verdict and raised concerns over what role race may have played in the case.
Nova Scotia's Public Prosecution Service defended its decision to prosecute Howe, saying the Crown determined it was in the public interest to proceed with the case.
"During this trial, there was no relevance, it was never raised at any point that race was at all a relevant factor in this case, by defence or Crown," Crown attorney Dan Rideout said Wednesday.
Two days after he was convicted, the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society suspended Howe's law licence.
Howe has filed papers to appeal his conviction and his lawyer said there will be an application for his release sometime next month.