Edmonton

Driver who killed toddler in patio crash 'relieved' by Supreme Court appeal

The Edmonton man who crashed his SUV into a patio in 2013, killing a two-year-old boy, has told his lawyer he “feels somewhat relieved” the Supreme Court of Canada has granted leave to appeal his sentence.

Richard Suter was sentenced to 26 months in prison by the Court of Appeal

Richard Suter speaks to media outside Edmonton courthouse in July 2015. (CBC)

The Edmonton man who crashed his SUV into a patio in 2013, killing a two-year-old boy, has told his lawyer he "feels somewhat relieved" the Supreme Court of Canada has granted leave to appeal his sentence.  

Defence lawyer Dino Bottos said Richard Suter called him Thursday afternoon from jail.  

"He feels good about it, but he's being cautious," Bottos said. "The way he was treated over these last few years, and then how he was treated by the Court of Appeal left him with a feeling of distrust.  

"He knows he's not out of the woods. He knows this is just leave to argue the case."

The court has tentatively set Oct. 10 as the date it will hear the case.

Suter was initially sentenced to four months in jail and handed a 30-month driving prohibition for failing to provide a breath sample after the crash that killed toddler Geo Mounsef.

The Crown appealed that sentence to the Alberta Court of Appeal, which handed Suter a new term of 26 months' incarceration. His driving ban remained unchanged.

The application to have the case heard by the Supreme Court argues that Suter's sentence should be returned to the original four months.

It's possible Suter could be released on bail while the case winds through the Supreme Court process.

"He's going to think about when he would like me to apply for bail and we'll discuss that in the coming days," Bottos said.

Rarely heard

Bottos noted that sentence appeals are rarely heard by the Supreme Court.

"I am so pleased with this development.

"Finally, we're going to have the top court in the country hear this and probably make new law.

"For them to take our case on means that they must have seen a real problem with the Court of Appeal's decision. So I'm optimistic, but cautiously optimistic."

University of Alberta law professor Steven Penney agrees it's rare for the country's top court to hear a sentence appeal.

"It is fairly rare for the Court to deal with sentencing issues and it's always a bit of a crapshoot to get leave to appeal really in any case.

"So when you combine those two things ... certainly the odds were against the defence in this application."

'Easy to feel sorry for myself'

The Supreme Court's decision took Sage Morin by surprise. The victim's mother heard the news Thursday morning the case would go through another legal battle.

"As Richard Suter continues to drag on this legal battle, it's easy to feel sorry for myself," Morin said in a written statement. "As he appeals his 26-month sentence I can't help but wish there was an appeal process for my life sentence."

Morin said she prays Suter will "understand the aftermath of his actions, to understand the pain and hurt he continues to cause."  

She takes some solace in that the country's highest court will hear her son's story "and they will remember his name," she said.  

On May 19, 2013, Suter drove his SUV into the patio at the former Ric's Grill near Rabbit Hill Road and 23rd Avenue in the Terwillegar area.

Mounsef, who was having dinner with his parents and baby brother, died when the vehicle pinned him against a wall.

While arguing with his spouse, Suter had inadvertently pressed hard on the gas pedal, thinking it was the brake. He drove his car into the patio.

When he was taken into police custody, he received bad legal advice from a lawyer who essentially advised him not to provide a breath sample.
Geo Mounsef was killed in May 2013 when an SUV driven by Richard Suter crashed through an outdoor patio on a restaurant in Edmonton in May 2013. (Family photo)
 

That lawyer later testified he didn't know the Criminal Code had been changed to make the penalty for refusal the same as an impaired driving conviction.

'1 out of 10,000'

The trial judge found the 65-year-old retired businessman was not impaired at the time of the crash. 

At the time of sentencing, Bottos called the case "one out of 10,000" because of bad legal advice his client received from another lawyer. He described the three-year sentence as "dramatically harsh" and "inherently unfair."  

"I'll be asking for the Supreme Court to overturn the Court of Appeal's decision, because they raised the sentence from four months to 26 months and they did so, in my opinion, respectfully, by committing several errors of law," Bottos said Thursday in an interview with CBC News.

"They presumed that Mr. Suter was being strategic in his decision in his choice to not provide a breath sample, when … the initial sentencing judge found that Suter was misled by his lawyer and made an honest mistake."

Penney said it typically takes six months to a year for the Supreme Court to hand down a decision.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Richard Suter had appealed his original sentence. In fact, both the defence and the Crown appealed the lengths of the sentence and driving ban.
    Jan 12, 2017 11:11 AM MT

With files from Janice Johnston