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Sixteen years in prison for one night of mayhem - C. Blatchford, Globe & Mail


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Sixteen years in prison for one night of mayhem

A "committed gangster" who killed an unarmed man in a downtown Toronto
public square packed with Caribana celebrants will serve 16 years in jail
before being eligible to apply for parole.

The sentence for Ajine Stewart, a 28-year-old convicted two months ago
of second-degree murder in the July 31, 2005 shooting of Dwayne Taylor,
was handed down yesterday by Ontario Superior Court Judge David McCombs.
While the judge thundered about the "particularly brazen, callous and outrageous"
nature of the shooting, he declined to impose the longer period of parole
ineligibility sought by prosecutor Paul McDermott.

Second-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no parole for
a minimum 10 years, with the judge able to increase that period to the maximum
of 25 years. The shooting happened at Dundas Square in the wee hours of a
Caribana festival weekend, with hundreds of people in the square itself and
hundreds more milling about on Yonge St. It was the so-called summer of
the gun, and on this particular weekend alone, there were three shootings
in the city.

The jurors heard that Mr. Stewart, an acknowledged crack cocaine dealer
and member of the notorious Crips gang, had taken to carrying a loaded
firearm months before, and that while he went to Dundas Square looking
for women, he took his gun with him in case he needed it. The shooting
of Mr. Taylor, a 21-year-old who was also a Crip and drug dealer, was
captured by surveillance cameras.

Yet had it not been for the bravery of then-Toronto Police officer Keith
Lindley, who spotted Mr. Stewart - standing perfectly still with a gun in
his hand as all around him terrified people ran for their lives - and tackled
him to the ground, Mr. Stewart might well have been able to escape in
the chaos that followed the gunfire.

As Judge McCombs noted yesterday, after Mr. Stewart was subdued,
"Police had to pry his hand from the murder weapon."

It was against this background that in a sentencing hearing earlier this
month, Mr. McDermott argued passionately for a sentence of at least
18 years for Mr. Stewart, calling his crime and others like it "an urban
nightmare. "One of the great benefits of our country and of this city is
that it is a peaceful law-abiding home for people around the world to
come to," Mr. McDermott said.

"Caribana is one of the most famous cultural gatherings in our city.
This multicultural city, of which we're so proud, and the law and order
and peacefulness of our country - people come [here] for that principle,
for that right to gather in peace and law and order - is threatened in
this case."

Mr. McDermott also reminded the judge that when Mr. Stewart testified -
he admitted the shooting but insisted he'd been acting in self-defence -
his attitude was "he was entirely entitled to do what he did, that when he
pulled out an illegal weapon and fired it twice in a public square and killed
Mr. Taylor, he was entirely justified in doing so in law... his position before
the jury, with some indignation, was that 'I was doing what I had to do, both
in law and in fact.' "

The prosecutor told Judge McCombs that "the public is looking to this court
to affirm the principles of public safety and public order ... It is an exemplary
case of lawlessness and of extreme public danger that requires an appropriate
sentence, but a severe one."

But, though the judge found there were no significant mitigating factors operating
in Mr. Stewart's favour, though the jurors who heard the case recommended an
average of 17 years of parole ineligibility (five jurors made no recommendation)
and though the judge agreed that "Society has the right to expect courts to act
firmly and decisively," he imposed only 16 years behind bars.

Mr. Stewart's lawyer, Jeffrey Milligan, had argued that an earlier Ontario Court
of Appeal decision that reversed an 18-year sentence for second-degree murder
effectively had "capped" a second-degree sentence at 15 years, and that Mr. Stewart
should receive less than that.

It was after the verdict, at the sentencing hearing earlier this month, when Mr. Taylor's
mother, Jacqueline, was giving her victim impact statement, that the court learned of an
unusually cruel twist in the case - her son had introduced Mr. Stewart to her as a friend.
She had welcomed him into her home. "That's how I met him," she said through her tears.

"I didn't know he was the same one that was gonna take away his life."