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Andre Denny gets eight years for killing Raymond Taavel

Denny pleaded guilty to manslaughter after beating Taavel to death after failing to return to psychiatric facility.

A man hang a photo of Raymond Taavel at a memorial to the murdered activist.

Metro File Photo

A man hang a photo of Raymond Taavel at a memorial to the murdered activist.

An Andre Noel Denny supporter walked over to Raymond Taavel’s partner after the sentence of eight years for manslaughter was handed down, embracing him in a hug.

Denny, 36, was sentenced to eight years incarceration on Thursday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court, nearly four years after the popular gay-rights activist was beaten to death outside the Menz Bar on Gottingen Street.

“This case was … a particularly difficult one because of the complex issues involved,” Justice Peter Rosinski said in court.

With roughly six years credit for time served, Denny’s sentence begins Thursday and leaves just under two years in custody with three years of probation after that.

Taavel’s partner, Darren Lewis, sat with friends in the gallery on Thursday and talked quietly with a supporter of Denny’s who approached him after court was over, the pair hugging for a moment.

On April 16, 2012, Denny failed to return to the East Coast Forensic Hospital after receiving a one-hour unescorted pass. According to an agreed statement of facts, Denny got into an argument about seven hours later with Taavel and another man outside the gay bar, punched him in the head and slammed his face into the pavement several times.

Rosinski spoke at length about the difficulties in determining what role Denny’s schizophrenia played at the time of the attack, and ruled the assault was motivated by “generalized anger,” fueled in part by Denny's psychosis and abuse of substances.

Denny had been forcibly removed from another man’s house just before the argument began, and Rosinski said a stray comment from those outside the bar, combined with suspicion and delusion, likely led to the outburst of anger and attack.

“I conclude that beyond a reasonable doubt, before Mr. Denny consumed crack cocaine and alcohol, he had the capacity to reason that such consumption would increase the likelihood of a violent episode on his behalf to the level of a real risk,” Rosinski said.

“He chose to consume the crack cocaine and alcohol, and create the immediate conditions that contributed to his fatal attack on Mr. Taavel.”

The Crown had asked for a sentence of seven to 10 years, while the defence suggested less than six years, the same as time served.

Denny held a large feather as he sat surrounded by court sheriffs listening to Rosinski's decision, wearing a blue sweater and glasses, with his hair shaved on the sides.

The sentencing took about three hours, including two breaks when Denny became agitated and stood up to address the judge. In the first incident, Denny yelled that he wanted to take the stand and tell the judge “what the hell's going on.”

He then forcefully pushed his Mi’kmaq translator, who had been sitting next to him, and said “I'm sick of you.” The man fell over into a railing. He returned to the gallery for the rest of the hearing.

Defence lawyer David Mahoney said outside court Denny will deal with mental illness for the rest of his life, and sitting for long periods of time causes stress and sometimes outbursts.

Mahoney said Denny is a dual-status offender, meaning he was previously found not criminally responsible for an offence but then was convicted criminally in this case.

Rosinksi said Denny remains a “significant” threat to public safety, and although it’s up to the Review Board to determine where Denny serves his time, the judge recommended Denny remain at the East Coast Forensic Hospital where he can be in a secure place and continue with treatment and therapy.

Denny will remain under the Review Board during probation, and Mahoney said it’s up to them to determine if he should remain in medical care for those three years or be integrated back into the community.

He will also follow multiple conditions, including a ban on weapons, attending counselling for anger and substance abuse, refrain from alcohol, not be in a place where alcohol is the primary business and take reasonable steps to ensure his mental illness is not a danger to himself or others.

James Giacomantonio, Crown attorney, said the four years it’s taken to complete the proceedings has been tough, but it was “particularly taxing” on Taavel’s loved ones like Lewis, who attended most appearances.

“For them it’s a good day,” Giacomantonio said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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