R v Muzzo Decision

Marco Muzzo said nothing in an Ontario courtroom before he was led away in handcuffs Tuesday to begin serving a 10-year sentence for what the judge described as “robbing happy, positive people of their reasons for being.”

The sentence represents one of the harshest in recent legal memory for impaired driving causing death and is aimed largely at preventing others from doing the same.

“The high degree of Mr. Muzzo’s moral blameworthiness, combined with the enormous and far-reaching consequences of his offences, set this case apart from others,” said Ontario Superior Court Justice Michelle Fuerst.

By rejecting the defence request for eight years and siding closely with the Crown’s request of 10 to 12 years, the sentence also reflects the intense public outrage at the image of a privileged young man stumbling drunk out of a private jet onto Ontario’s roads and killing three children and their grandfather.

Before giving her reasons, Fuerst said she received unsolicited messages from members of the public, which she filed with the court and said she ignored for the purposes of sentencing.

Muzzo’s mother wiped her eyes while the dead children’s mother, Jennifer Neville-Lake, sobbed quietly.

Last September Muzzo, the 29-year-old heir to a billion-dollar construction fortune, was returning from his own bachelor party in Miami. He landed just after 3 p.m., having had an unspecified number of drinks on the plane, on top of a late-night drinking session the night before. His story was that he did not realize he was drunk, although after the crash, he blew three times over the legal limit, so high that the law requires this to be treated as an aggravating factor.

He collected his Jeep Cherokee from the airport garage and headed north to his home in Vaughan, an affluent suburb north of Toronto near where his family lived.

He ran a stop sign near Kleinburg and collided with a Grand Caravan, which had the right of way, carrying the Neville-Lake children on their way home to Brampton. They had been at a sleepover with their grandparents, Neriza and 65-year-old Gary Neville, and their great-grandmother, Josephina Frias. The two women survived the crash. Neriza was driving, and was “entirely blameless,” Judge Fuerst said.

The injuries to the others were catastrophic. Harrison (Harry), 5, died in hospital about midnight, holding his two-year-old sister Milly’s hand, after doctors placed them together, knowing nothing could save them.

Their parents made it to hospital in time to say a final goodbye, but they were too late for Daniel, 9, who died three hours earlier.

Outside the courthouse following the sentencing, Jennifer Neville-Lake showed a photo of the two children holding hands in their hospital beds.

“That’s Milly and Harry. They joined their hands together. They pushed their beds together; I decided I had to turn the machines off so Milly’s heart wouldn’t explode. I couldn’t pick which baby to turn off the machines first,” she said, her voice cracking.

“Edward and I crawled into bed with them,” she said. “We put our hands on top of theirs so that … just like we were with them when they were born, we were with both of them when they died. They died hugged by us in bed surrounded by all the family and friends that sang to them ’Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ as we turned off the machines.”

Dawn Muzzo, centre, mother of drunk driver Marco Muzzo, and his fiancee Taryn Hampton, centre right, arrive at court in Newmarket, Ont., on Tuesday, March 29, 2016.

Muzzo has been in custody for all but three weeks since the fatal crash, and is to receive credit of 1.5 to 1 for that time. He will serve nine years and four months and be eligible for parole after a third of his sentence. He also faces a 12-year driving ban.

In its arguments for a 10 to 12 year prison term, the Crown emphasized the principles of denunciation and general deterrence — basically to inspire fear in other potential drunk drivers by putting Muzzo with the worst of the worst.

Paul Tait, the Crown prosecutor, acknowledged Muzzo’s remorse, his early guilty pleas, no prior criminal offences (although he has 10 speeding convictions), steady employment and deep family and social support, all of which make for a low risk to re-offend, a view shared by a forensic psychologist. But he argued those factors are due less weight in a case like this, at the most extreme end of the criminal drunk-driving spectrum. Broadly, in balancing the competing interests, the judge agreed.

In his scripted expression of remorse last month, Muzzo said he would “spend the rest of my life attempting to atone for my conduct, and devoting myself to educating the public of the disastrous consequences of drinking and driving.”

Forensic evidence suggested Muzzo had been braking for four seconds before he made impact with the Caravan at an estimated 85 km/h, still over the speed limit. He was so drunk he needed others to keep his balance, urinated himself, and was unable to comprehend instructions from police.

Muzzo’s defence lawyer, Brian Greenspan, had argued for a sentence of eight years, in line with the Ontario Court of Appeal’s 2011 ruling in the case of Andrew Kummer, upholding the trial judge’s sentence of eight years. Greenspan was also defence counsel in that case, which was similarly horrific, with three people killed.

By exceeding it, Judge Fuerst has set a powerful precedent, which may yet be reviewed on appeal. But as she herself acknowledged, justice is elusive, because nothing can repair the damage he did.

Jennifer Neville-Lake, who lost her children and her father in the crash, said her family is a tragic reminder of the consequences.

“Please, keep in mind: when you chose to drink and drive you’re hurting other families, you’re killing someone else’s babies, like mine were killed,” she said outside court.

“All of mine were killed on a beautiful Sunday afternoon just after 4 o’clock. Please don’t do that.”

Muzzo’s sentence, she said, is roughly the same length as her eldest son Daniel’s life.

Source: The National Post


Last updated on: 2016-04-03 | Link to this post