Monday, December 13, 2004
Players in fatal swarming sentenced
By Jane Syed
One young man was placed under house arrest and a second man received a suspended sentence Thursday for their part in a violent swarming that ended in the death of 25-year-old Robbie Araji in Waterfront Park in the summer.
News Article online access: Suspended sentence in Beating death
Chad Baker, 20, of Squamish, was placed under house arrest for three months, followed by one year's probation, while Phillip Wilmarth, 19, of North Vancouver, received a suspended sentence, 12 months' probation and was ordered to obey a curfew for three months for their part in the savage beating of Araji in the early morning hours of June 30. Baker and Wilmarth both pleaded guilty to assault.
According to Crown prosecution information presented on Thursday in North Vancouver provincial court, Baker and Wilmarth were among a crowd of youths who dogpiled on top of Araji and repeatedly beat and kicked him after he was knocked to the ground.
At some point during the attack, Araji was stabbed in the chest. He died a short time later in Lions Gates Hospital.
Prosecuting Crown lawyer Shannon Halyk said while "no one has come forward to say they stabbed Araji," a 16-year-old who was seen brandishing a knife earlier in the altercation pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Wednesday.
According to an autopsy report, Araji died from a single stab wound that penetrated his heart and a lung, said Halyk.
Before he was stabbed, Araji was beaten by the crowd of youths and had his head smashed with a rock.
Judge Doug Moss described the swarming as "a cowardly attack" on a man who was defenceless and lying on the ground.
"For the rest of your lives, you two . . . are going to have to carry (this) with you. . . . The community will know you were the ones who were involved in this incident that resulted in the death of Araji," Moss told Baker and Wilmarth.
Araji's mother Yvonne and fiancee Mounira Zeidan sat in the front row of the courtroom Thursday, occasionally dabbing tears, as Halyk described Araji's last moments.
Wilmarth and Baker's families also attended court, sitting on the opposite side of the courtroom.
Halyk described how the fight in Waterfront Park started just before 1:30 a.m. on
June 30 after a group of up to 60 young people were "partying and drinking in the park" that night.Araji and his friend Peter Stiak were walking past the teens when one of the youths asked them, "What are you looking at?"
A verbal sparring match followed, then one of the teens put his arm around Araji
and sucker-punched him,
said Halyk. At that point, witnesses said Stiak pulled out a crowbar and "swung the crowbar at the youth who had sucker-punched Araji," said Halyk, eventually hitting one of the teens. Another teen who was brandishing a knife began to chase Stiak, at one point lunging at him and threatening to kill him, she said.
When Stiak ran to call the SeaBus security officers a short distance away, the group of angry youths surrounded Araji. One of them, a 14-year-old who has since been charged with aggravated assault, took a large rock or piece of concrete about a foot long and smashed Araji over the head with it, stunning him and knocking him to the ground, said Halyk.
A number of the teens, including Baker and Wilmarth, then dogpiled on top of Araji and started punching and kicking him, said Halyk.
Witnesses described seeing Wilmarth "beating Araji as fast as he could," using both hands, said Halyk. "Another witness said she saw him punch Araji in the face."
Two witnesses described watching Baker line up and kick Araji twice in the head "then kick him again," said Halyk. They also saw Baker kicking Araji in the ribs, back and stomach.
While neither Baker or Wilmarth delivered the fatal assault "they did take the opportunity to beat him," she said.
Wilmarth's lawyer Michael Mines asked the judge to consider a discharge for his client, saying he was remorseful and a criminal record would make it difficult for him to visit his father in the United States.
Wilmarth's punching of Araji only lasted "a number of seconds," said Mines. "He certainly wasn't the leader of that group."
Baker's lawyer Sarah Rauch described Baker as having a severe drug and alcohol problem during the time when the attack took place. When he hung around with Wilmarth, "there was never any question about what they were going to do. They were going to drink heavily, every day and every night," she said.
Rauch said Baker told her "this incident had changed his life." The defence lawyer said her client found it difficult to read the victim impact statement from Araji's mother. "He wants her to know how deeply he feels sorry for the incident," said Rauch.
Rauch said Baker denies kicking Araji in the head, but admits he "snapped" when he saw his cousin get hit by Araji's friend. "He jumped in and kicked him (Araji) four or five times."
Moss ordered Baker not to leave his home during his three months of house arrest except with his parents or to go to a residential drug and alcohol treatment program.
Wilmarth was ordered to obey a curfew from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. seven days a week during the first three months of his suspended sentence. Both men were banned from drinking, having contact with each other and from going to Waterfront Park. They were also ordered not to possess weapons.