A Fort Saskatchewan man received a seven-year sentence for killing his son in late 2019.
Justice John Henderson handed Damien Starrett, 33, his sentence in an Edmonton courtroom on Tuesday morning. Starrett’s sentence was reduced to a term of about four years, five months due to a number of factors, including time served and treatment he received while at the Edmonton Remand Centre.
Starrett was found guilty in June of manslaughter in the November 2019 death of his one-year-old son, Ares Starrett. At the time, he was also found guilty of assaulting his five-year-old daughter.
Starrett was originally charged with second-degree murder in his son’s death.
In court on Tuesday morning, Starrett didn’t show much emotion. After the sentence was handed down, the children’s mother — who cannot be named due to a publication ban protecting the identity of her daughter — hunched over and sobbed.
In his sentencing decision, Henderson acknowledged the sentencing options for manslaughter are very wide.
Henderson said the violence Starrett inflicted on Ares was “profound.”
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“Actions that result in the death of an infant at the hands of a parent are, by definition, catastrophic harm to the victim,” Henderson wrote in his decision.
“The victim impact statements show the profound harm that the offences have had on Ares’ mother, sister and other family members. As such, the gravity of the offence is very high.”
The judge also pointed out, though, that Starrett did not set out to kill Ares and there is no evidence of any planning nor deliberation on Starrett’s part.
“Instead, Mr. Starrett became overwhelmed by a confluence of circumstances, including suffering from the effects of serious heroin withdrawal, back pain and insomnia at the time of the offence. Moreover, Mr. Starrett was prone to explosive outbursts and unaddressed anger issues. He acted out in an impulsive and disproportionate manner by striking out against his children,” Henderson wrote.
During a sentencing hearing earlier this month, the Crown had sought a sentence of 10 to 12 years. The defence sought a four-year sentence, arguing Starrett is still a young man and can live a meaningful life.
Defence lawyer Rory Ziv said Tuesday his client is still processing the sentence. Ziv said he would have liked the sentence to be lower.
“I asked the judge to make some reductions from that four- to six-year range that I was asking for,” Ziv said. “I’m glad that the judge recognized a lot of the factors I was asking him to recognize: the state misconduct, the Gladue factors in the case.
“This was a very complex case. There were a lot of things interplaying: mental health issues, insomnia, drug withdrawal.”
Ziv added he believes the sentence gives his client a chance.
“There are no winners in this case and I’ve said that before. Everybody loses,” he said outside the courthouse Tuesday morning.
“You heard my client apologize to the family last week in sentencing. He wants them to live in peace and he asked for the opportunity, as well, to live in peace going forward.”
During Starrett’s trial, his lawyer argued he was not criminally responsible because he had a severe sleep disorder that made him do things he wasn’t aware of.
Ziv argued that a severe sleep disorder put Starrett in a state of automatism, which made him incapable of understanding his actions when he killed his son and injured his daughter.
A sleep expert also testified at the trial after examining the man two years following the boy’s death. Dr. Colin Shapiro said he found “thumbprints” of parasomnia, a disorder in which people do things while asleep that they are unaware of, such as sleepwalking.
Shapiro testified he saw multiple arousals during the man’s deep sleep.
When delivering his verdict in June, Justice John Henderson said it was more likely that the accused was suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms from his opioid addiction and lashed out at his children.
Court heard that Starrett has a history of substance abuse with cocaine, alcohol, heroin and prescription opioids. He admitted to self-medicating his back pain with heroin and illegally obtained Percocet.
As part of the sentencing submissions, Starrett’s lawyer requested a Gladue report because of Starrett’s First Nations ancestry.
The report suggests Starrett’s parents didn’t adequately care for him and he was raised by his mother’s loving foster parents.
Starrett told the report writer he has fetal alcohol syndrome and ADHD. He also said he’s struggled with his mental health since he was a teen and that he attempted suicide multiple times, including once after feces was thrown into his cell in the remand centre.
In his sentencing decision, Henderson noted Starrett was the subject of two incidents of “fecal bombing” by other prisoners while in custody at the Edmonton Remand Centre. Henderson also said Starrett’s time in administrative segregation is worthy of some credit as a collateral consequence.