Haliburton man Norman Hart has been sentenced to eight years in jail, less time served, after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the 2019 death of housemate Robert James Brown.
Justice Michelle Fuerst delivered her verdict in a Lindsay courtroom May 9. Prior to sentencing, she read a statement of facts outlining the events that occurred at a Highland Street residence on June 17, 2019.
Hart killed Brown after the pair got into an argument over the distribution of a $500 cheque from the Kawartha Lakes Haliburton Housing Corporation. A confrontation at their shared home became physical, with Hart, who was under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, delivering a savage beating to Brown before leaving him to die.
Among the injuries sustained, Fuerst said, were a fractured cheekbone, broken ribs, damaged voice box and numerous contusions consistent with being kicked and stamped. The damage inflicted to Brown’s chest caused his lungs to collapse and led to his eventual death. She said Brown survived for between two and three hours after the attack.
Hart then travelled to a friend’s house where he changed clothes and convinced someone to cash the $500 cheque on his behalf. He then spent several hours drinking in a local park before returning home at around midnight. It wasn’t until several hours later that Hart phoned the police to report the incident.
“This was a mean, brutal beating on an unarmed man … Mr. Hart’s behaviour in leaving Mr. Brown to die alone, and then dead in the hallway for several more hours was cruel and callous,” Fuerst stated.
“Mr. Hart has a history of committing criminal offences, including assaults, after consuming alcohol … Mr. Hart was on notice that alcohol and drugs fuel his antisocial behaviour, yet he continued to use them, with tragic consequences for Mr. Brown.” Fuerst said Hart did an 18-month probation about a month before killing Brown.
“He was assessed as a high-risk to reoffend, and he did reoffend in the most egregious way,” Fuerst said.
She listed several mitigating factors that factored into the sentencing. That Hart pleaded guilty to manslaughter, saving approximately four weeks of court time, was considered, so too were comments Hart made at a previous sentencing hearing expressing remorse for his actions and apologizing to Brown’s family.
Fuerst also acknowledged the “harsher than normal” conditions Hart has been exposed to while in pre-trial custody. Due to staffing shortages and COVID-19 protocols at Lindsay’s Centre East Correctional Centre, Hart spent approximately 210 days in full lockdown, meaning no access to the yard, phones or showers. Given the nature of his holding conditions, Fuerst granted greater weight to time served. While Hart had been incarcerated for 1,056 days as of May 9, Fuerst said she was treating it as 1,584 days. As such, there are three years and seven months remaining on Hart’s sentence.
The judge encouraged Hart to seek out an extensive alcohol rehabilitation program while behind bars. While Hart has spoken of his desire to become sober, Fuerst noted he has been found in possession of homemade alcohol in his cell on one occasion while incarcerated.
“Unless [substance abuse] treatment is undertaken and successfully completed, Mr. Hart will remain a danger to the public … It is clear there is no quick fix to Mr. Hart’s issues. He must understand that he has a long journey ahead of him to achieve and maintain sobriety,” Fuerst said.
“He must understand that this is a last opportunity to change his lifestyle for the better, as he said he wants to do. And he must understand that, should he fail and relapse into violent criminal activity, it is very likely he will find himself the subject of a dangerous offender application with the prospect of spending every day of the rest of his life in jail,” she added.