‘Drug-induced psychosis’ behind lawyer’s baseball bat attack on St. Thomas family: judge

Click to play video: 'Ontario police investigating baseball attack as racially motivated crime' Ontario police investigating baseball attack as racially motivated crime
Video appears to show a Mark Phillips attacking another man in a parking lot with a baseball bat, while accusing him of being a "terrorist." – Dec 8, 2017

Mark Phillips, the Toronto lawyer was in a “drug-induced psychosis” caused by heavy use of marijuana when he attacked a family in St. Thomas with a baseball bat last December, according to a psychiatric assessment.

A psychiatrist’s report presented at the Elgin County Courthouse on Wednesday said Phillips had been using large amounts of marijuana, without realizing it was affecting his mental state.

The Toronto-based personal injury lawyer pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of assault causing bodily harm in the case, and listened quietly as Mari Zambrano, Sergio Estepa, and their 13-year-old son Nick, talked about the impact the attack had on their lives.

He was given a conditional discharge and won’t have to serve any jail time.

READ MORE: St. Thomas woman describes disturbing baseball-bat assault that hospitalized husband

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“I never raised my son to be afraid of others,” said Estepa, who was treated in hospital for a broken rib and bruising after the incident.

“I never raised my son to be attacked with a baseball bat in the middle of the day, just because of his colour or the way he looks.”

Estepa has panic attacks and feels angry about what happened. He also has a lot of questions, wondering why Phillips attacked them and why there was a baseball bat in the passenger seat of his car.

The defence lawyer, Steven Skurka, said his client had spent six hours with psychiatrist Dr. Peter Collins. An assessment report detailed how Phillips had felt “targeted and assaulted by strangers, the majority of whom were of the Muslim faith.”

Skurka said there were other situations in the 36 hours leading up to the incident in St. Thomas, where Phillips had an argument with a construction worker, was escorted out of the Air Canada Centre, and was “acting strange, talking to himself, and being loud” in a Tim Hortons in Woodstock.

During the assessment, Phillips told Collins he didn’t remember why he ended up at the Elgin Mall but remembers feeling threatened by the Estepa family and their family friend. Skurka said Phillips thought they were staring him down, and that Nick was “baring his teeth.”

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Steven Skurka addresses reporters with his client, Mark Phillips (middle), and co-counsel (right). Liny Lamberink/980 CFPL

READ MORE: Suspect in disturbing baseball-bat attack in St. Thomas granted bail

Cellphone footage of the attack shows Phillips approaching the family in the parking lot; he yells that they’re “terrorists,” and retrieves a baseball bat from his vehicle before approaching again.

The court heard that Phillips had been using cannabis because he thought it helped him think clearer and that he’d smoked three or four joints before his trip to London and St. Thomas. The psychiatrist’s report said the drug-induced psychosis was caused by THC in the cannabis.

But now that he’s stopped using marijuana, Skurka told the court that Phillips’ “parents stated he’s no longer paranoid and can engage in lengthy normal conversations.”

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Nearly two months after the incident, Phillips wrote a letter to the victims which Skurka read out loud.

“I’d like to sincerely apologize to you, your family, and your family friend,” the letter began.

It goes on to say that after watching the cellphone footage of what happened, Phillips felt “horrified, embarrassed and deeply humiliated.”

“You and your family are good people, and deserve to be treated with the utmost respect and dignity,” he wrote.

After Phillips watched the video, Skurka recalled how he’d said, “That was not the real me.”

READ MORE: ‘Highly induced drug psychosis’ to blame for man on SkyTrain tracks and system shutdown

Crown attorney, Lisa Defoe, argued Phillips be given a suspended sentence with a three-year probation while Skurka wanted a conditional discharge. They both agreed the incident wasn’t a hate crime.

The judge granted a conditional discharge with a three-year probation; Phillips will have to do 240 hours of community service, receive counselling, won’t be allowed to interact with the four victims, and won’t be allowed to use any non-prescription drugs even when marijuana becomes legalized this summer.

Outside the courthouse, 13-year-old Nick Estepa told reporters his family was happy that the case was over.

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“We can move on with our lives, and things can return almost back to normal,” he said.

“I remember before all this happened, I used to be normal, I could go to the park and hang out with friends, stay out ’til maybe 11, but now it’s too different. My parents are more on edge, same with me.”

Nick told the judge earlier in the day how he was fearful of white cars and men with beards in the weeks following the attack.

As part of his victim impact statement, he showed the judge a red-and-black graphic he designed that depicts Phillips, his family, and the words “you don’t belong here” in bold lettering at the top.

“Almost like a movie poster,” he said.

“Coming from being first-generation Canadian and having to deal with the struggle, those words really affected me that day.”

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