An Alberta man was found guilty Monday of aggravated assault for an attack that severely injured a gay and legally blind McBride man.
In reaching the verdict against Michael Allan Richter, 33, of Ponoka, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Frits Verhoeven found Richter used a degree of force "far beyond that which could reasonably or even conceivably be considered necessary in the circumstances."
During a trial for the Dec. 11, 2011 incident, the court heard that William Floris Groeneveld, 56, made a sexual advance towards Richter when he touched his buttocks and his genitals minutes after Richter had stranded his SUV in the snow while giving Groeneveld a ride home.
Verhoeven found Richter punched Groeneveld twice to the left side of his face and once to the right, that left him with a broken jaw, multiple lacerations, severe swelling to his head. He was in hospital for nine days and he continues to suffer problems with his balance, his memory as well as his jaw as a result.
The attack was believed to have occurred sometime after 2 a.m. and Groeneveld was found in a snow bank on First Avenue at about 4 a.m. by a resident who went outside because her dogs were barking and heard someone calling for help. It was about -10 C at the time.
"His temperature was well below normal, without warming he would have died," Verhoeven said.
Police spotted Richter's SUV about 150 metres away and Richter was found inside curled up and sleeping.
Following his arrest, Richter told police he had spent the previous day snowmobiling near McBride where he smoked two marijuana joints and left his snowmobile and a trailer at a friend's house before going to a McBride pub.
There, he ate dinner with friends, drank some white rum and then, outside the pub, he and four others used cocaine before he drove his truck to another McBride bar where he remembered holding open the door for Groeneveld but had no recollection of the events that followed.
Groeneveld, who suffers from an inherited progressive eye disease and has been effectively blind for many years, testified he was a regular at the bar but because of newly-fallen snow, he lost his way while trying to go home and so returned to the spot and asked for a ride.
Although the evidence was circumstantial because Groeneveld cannot see, Verhoeven concluded Richter was the one who gave Groeneveld the ride, noting in particular that his blood was found on Richter's shoe and near the SUV.
Shortly afterwards, the SUV had slid off the road and the two got out of the truck and arm-in-arm with the driver, they made their way along the road, Groeneveld testified.
But Richter then started "flipping out" and Groeneveld hugged him to calm him down. That worked for a short time but Richter once again repeated his behaviour and Groeneveld put his arms around him again. Then he felt what he thought was Richter rubbing his crotch side-to-side against Groeneveld's and responded by grabbing his buttock with one hand and his genital area with the other.
"On doing so, he did not feel the erection that he had expected," Verhoeven said. "He was then violently struck twice on the left side of his face and the man grabbed hold of his cane."
Fearing the cane would be used as a weapon, Groeneveld responded with a brief struggle before he was knocked unconscious.
Verhoeven noted Groeneveld was significantly older and slimmer than Richter, who in contrast was strong enough to outrun police when he tried to escape arrest only to loop back to his vehicle and then try to start it before he was apprehended.
In making a case for self defence, Richter's lawyer had pointed to a case of a man who was acquitted of assault after he stabbed another man in the neck when he awoke to find him performing oral sex. The appeals court found he had acted instinctively and struck the man with a glancing blow with the first thing that came to hand.
But Verhoeven found the McBride incident was not remotely the same, noting Richter struck Groeneveld more than once and with more force than necessary. If there was an assault by Groeneveld, it was trivial at best, and Richter could have responded by simply withdrawing.
"He could have added a verbal response," Verhoeven said. "A mild push away could have been reasonable. No blows of any kind were justified."
Richter, who has been in custody since his arrest, will be sentenced following completion of a pre-sentence report in six to eight weeks.