Driver Richard Suter sentenced to 4 months in patio death of toddler Geo Mounsef
Driver pleaded guilty to failing to provide a breath sample after killing 2-year-old
Richard Suter has been sentenced to four months in jail for refusing to provide a breath sample after he crashed his SUV into a patio and killed Edmonton toddler Geo Mounsef.
But Edmonton provincial court Judge Larry Anderson ruled Suter was not impaired at the time of the crash, which he called an "accident" with tragic consequences.
Defence lawyer Dino Bottos told reporters outside court that Suter is content with the sentence and feels vindicated on the issue of whether he was impaired.
"He will serve his sentence. He will pay his debt to society," Bottos said. "Finally the one objective observer who's seen and heard it all has concluded that Mr. Suter was not guilty of impaired driving."
The judge said he believes Suter proved he was not drunk at the time of the crash, even though witnesses said they honestly thought he was.
The court accepted Suter's version of events.
In May 2013, moments after he slammed into a restaurant patio and then slowly backed up his SUV, he was pulled out of his vehicle and thrown to the ground.
Suter was then dragged through a parking lot where he was attacked and kicked by an angry mob. Finally a small group had to surround Suter while he lay in a fetal position on the pavement until police arrived.
The court accepted the theory of a defence expert that Suter's glassy eyes and speech problems were consistent with shock or trauma.
'Bad legal advice'
Anderson also said he believes Suter was the victim of "hopefully rare, ill-informed and bad legal advice." After the 65-year-old was arrested, he called a legal aid lawyer, who essentially told him not to provide a breath sample.
"People must be able to rely on legal advice given when exercising their constitutional right to counsel," the judge said.
The packed courtroom was quiet as the judge read his 13-page decision.
But once he left the bench, the sobs of Geo Mounsef's mother grew progressively louder. She refused to speak to reporters afterward.
The toddler's father and a family supporter had to be physically restrained by sheriffs. There were angry taunts at Suter's friends.
One man asked: "You happy getting off scot-free"?
Outside court, the victim's father, George Mounsef, told reporters he thought the four-month sentence was "a joke" and "beyond insulting" to Geo and the family.
The defence lawyer was not surprised by the angry outbursts.
"The family will never get over this," Bottos said. "This case — there's no winners. There's all losers. It's a case of destruction, death, despair."
Suter has been the victim of vigilantism. He was abducted from his own home in January and his thumb was cut off by pruning shears. Suter's wife was also attacked in a shopping mall parking lot.
There are concerns about Suter's safety in jail. The judge is asking for him to be placed in protective custody in a single cell.
Bottos said Suter accepted his sentence "stoically," but will be "looking over his shoulder and so will his family."
Added Bottos: "But hopefully the threat on his life and health ... will dissipate now when people finally realize that he was not impaired that day.
"He took the life of a sweet little boy. But it was by an accident. Not by criminal conduct."