Dilkens submitted a community impact statement for the sentencing of the killer

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens says he approached the court to ask if he could write the community impact statement. (Sanjay Maru/CBC)

The decision of Mayor Drew Dilkens to insert his voice into the sentencing hearing of a man convicted second degree murder for brutally beating of a senior on the Ganatchio Trail in October of 2017 is being questioned by some within the legal community.

“I offer these remarks on behalf of the entire city for whom I am elected to lead,” the statement written by Dilkens read.

In October of 2017, Sara Anne Widholm was brutally attacked and beaten on the Ganatchio Trail — she died over a year later. In December, after a two-week trial,  24-year-old Habibullah Ahmadi, who admitted to using cannabis and magic mushrooms the day of the crime, was convicted of second degree murder in her death.

At last week’s sentencing hearing, Dilkens provided a community impact statement — an unusual step for a mayor to take.

“I actually asked if I could submit a community impact statement on behalf of the community as a whole and I don’t think I’m alone when I say that when I heard the details of what had happened to Ms. Widholm on the Ganatchio Trail a couple of years ago, it really had a profound impact on me,” Dilkens told the CBC.

The first page of a community impact statement by Mayor Drew Dilkens that is being considered by Justice Bruce Thomas in deciding parole eligibility for Habibullah Ahmadi, who was convicted of second degree murder. (Superior Court of Justice)

“I wanted to make sure the court understood what that impact was when reflecting on the sentence for the defendant.”

The community impact statement was given to Justice Bruce Thomas to help him decide how to sentence Ahmadi. It stands in contrast to more typical victim impact statements, as it is meant to show how the crime has affected the community as a whole, as opposed to a family member or someone close to the victim.

Dilkens’s statement is printed on city letter head and he exclaims it is made on behalf of the entire city he was elected to lead.

Something needs to be done in our community to address the upsurge of drug use and homelessness and things that really affect these kinds of criminal activities occurring in the first place.– Linda McCurdy

In the case of Ahmadi, the sentence for second degree murder is predetermined to be a life sentence with a minimum of 10 years before he can be considered for parole. So what Justice Thomas can determine is when he can be eligible for parole after that ten years.

“Things like this — the savage beating beating of Sara Anne — ‘just don’t happen in Windsor’,” one section of the statement reads.

Ahmadi’s defense lawyer Patricia Brown who was asking for the entire statement to be thrown out, took exception to that line in particular.

Patricia Brown is representing Habibullah Ahmadi. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

“That particular statement is misleading. It could lead a person or an Ontario parole board that’s reviewing Mr Ahmadi’s case to potentially perceive that this is so heinous and so egregious that this doesn’t happen here,” Brown said.

“All I did was a quick google search “Windsor- senior attack violence” and yes, Ahmadi’s case comes up, but also so does other cases in our jurisdiction where senior citizens or other individuals who were vulnerable were attacked in our jurisdiction. And the question I had was: ‘Where was the mayor then?'”

As examples, Brown points toward an incident in 2016 where a man randomly attacked an 83 year old woman from behind on Ottawa street, stabbing her multiple times in the face, as well as a 2012 road rage incident where an 82 year old man was one of two people beaten.

It seemed to fly in the face of all the protection of charter of rights that protect people who are charged with a crime from having to face more than already they’re up against.– Melinda Munro

Crown attorney Renee Puskas refused to speak for this story but in court she argued she saw nothing wrong with the ‘”just don’t happen in Windsor” comment,  the fact the phrase was written in parentheses showed it was meant to be rhetorical and the entire statement showed the emotional impact the crime had on the community.

Justice Thomas agreed and allowed the statement in its entirety but added that he doesn’t intend to give the mayor’s statement more value that its worth or be distracted by it.

Unconventional statement

Dilkens recognizes the uniqueness of a mayor interjecting in a case in this manner.

“I think its fair to say that it’s somewhat unconventional for a mayor to wade into criminal matters, you just don’t see that happen that often,” he said.

It is very rare, according to legal professionals CBC spoke with for this story. And they also question why the mayor would take this step.

Melinda Munro, who is an advisor today but formerly practiced constitutional law, said she was stunned by the mayor’s statement and called it inappropriate, pointing out Dilkens also sits as chair of the police services board.

Windsor lawyer and business owner Melinda Munro was one of three women vying for the Windsor West Liberal party nomination. (Jason Viau/CBC)

“For the mayor to speak in an official role as the government…. about the nature of that crime and about how that crime should affect the sentence that young man should serve, it seemed to fly in the face of all the protection of charter of rights that protect people who are charged with a crime.

“They’re up against the police and the Crown and now they’re up against the mayor too?”

Criminal lawyer Linda McCurdy agreed with Brown that she would not want for a letter like this to be filed against one of her clients. She said there were more constructive ways for the mayor to make statements about the crime.

“This… convicted person at this point was on drugs and what effect does drugs have on the community, where is that in the impact statement, McCurdy said.

Criminal lawyer Linda McCurdy said she would disagree if a community impact statement like the mayor’s was filed against a client of hers as well. (Facebook/Linda McCurdy)

“Something needs to be done in our community to address the upsurge of drug use and homelessness and things that really affect these kinds of criminal activities occurring in the first place.”

Why this case?

Dilkens’ perspective did not change when confronted with the criticism.

He said the large community walk that was held after the attack moved him greatly. There he also heard from people in the community about how the crime had affected them.

Mayor Drew Dilkens invited members of Neighbourhood Watch, Windsor Police and the public to join him in showing the city’s parks and pathways are safe and as a way of offering support to the victim. (Meg Roberts/ CBC News )

“Let’s not gloss over the fact that a murder was committed and that murder impacts people in different ways,” Dilkens said.

“If I felt a profound impact about other criminal action that took place in the city, I would feel the same about writing a community impact statement for that as well.”

Mayor Drew Dilkens is making no apologies for weighing in on the senseless and brutal murder of 75-year-old Sara Anne Widholm as she was taking her daily litter-picking walk on the Ganatchio Trail.

“I made the submission, I have no regrets doing it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Dilkens said in response to criticism of of his submitting a community impact statement to the sentencing hearing for Habibullah “Danny” Ahmadi.

Ahmadi was found guilty in November of second-degree murder for — while high on marijuana and magic mushrooms — randomly attacking Widholm in October 2017. The beating put Widholm into a coma from which she never recovered and sparked community outrage. She died in hospital 14 months later.

In one of the victim impact statement’s introduced on the first day of a sentencing hearing, the mayor described the day of the attack as “a day that shocked this community to its core.

“Things like this — the savage beating of Sara Anne — just don’t happen in Windsor.”

He wrote that Ahmadi, who was 21 at the time, “needs to know that his actions have deeply impacted our community in a way that will take decades for most to reconcile.”

Ahmadi’s lawyer, Patricia Brown, said that when she first read the mayor’s statement, she was taken aback: “It’s just disturbing.”

“This is very abnormal for a sitting mayor who is also a member of the police services board, who is a public figure in our community, to interject themselves into criminal proceedings,” she said. Dilkens is chairman of the Windsor Police Services Board.

Dilkens may want to express his concerns on behalf of the community, but his comment that “things like this … just don’t happen in Windsor,” is untrue, said Brown.

A quick Google search turns up numerous Windsor Star stories of horrific crimes committed during Dilkens’ tenure, she said. On Jan. 2, 2019, for example, the Star published a story recounting how 2018 — the year Widholm died — was one of the bloodiest years in recent Windsor history with 10 homicides.

“I felt it was a severe overstep on the part of a government official to intervene like that, and I felt also the substance of the letter was misleading,” said Brown.

There were other cases of elderly people viciously attacked, she found, like in 2016 when a man snuck up behind an 83-year-old woman walking along Ottawa Street and stabbed her repeatedly in the face, or in 2014 when an 85-year-old woman was murdered when her son attacked her with a hammer.

“I am not by any means minimizing Daniel Ahmadi’s conduct, I am just simply putting forward the fact that this does happen here,” his lawyer said. And none of these other cases warranted a statement from the mayor, she said.

“Why is this case any different?”

According to Dilkens, Widholm’s killing was a horrible shock to him and the general community. A week after the attack, he led a vigil and march along the Ganatchio Trail that attracted a crowd too big to count, he said this week.

“This one sat with me. It had a profound impact when I heard about it, the senseless nature of it, and I just thought I needed to weigh in on behalf of the community, how I think they’re feeling.”

Hundreds of people joined Mayor Drew Dilkens on Oct. 15, 2017, in a mayor’s walk along the Little River in the Riverside area. The event was held to show support for Sara Ann Widholm, the elderly victim of a random attack on the Ganatchio Trail a week earlier that led to her death. PHOTO BY DAN JANISSE /Windsor Star

While he acknowledged there are other horrible crimes, Dilkens said he can’t think of ones that were on the same level. The attacks on the elderly cited by Brown were bad, but not fatal, he said, adding that in the case of the hammer attack on Ottawa Street he went to visit the victim in hospital the following day. “I just felt so bad and wanted her to know that,” he said.

Victim impact statements are common during the sentencing hearings for these types of violent crimes, but in 2015, the Criminal Code of Canada was amended to allow community impact statements. “Sometimes the victim of an offence is more than one person — it is a community,” a Government of Canada document explains.

“The purpose of community impact statements is to allow the community to explain to the Court and the offender how the crime has affected the community.”

Dilkens said he followed the rules for what can be said in such a statement.

“There is crime in every community, you can’t submit a community impact statement for every one that happens, but for ones that have a profound impact I think it’s right for the mayor to make a submission,” he said.

Daniel Topp, president of the Windsor-Essex Criminal Lawyers’ Association, said he was surprised when he heard about the mayor getting involved in the case. It’s the first instance of a community impact statement he’s heard of locally.

“It’s bizarre that the mayor chooses to weigh in on this case, when there are so many other tragic cases dealing with things that happen in the community,” said Topp.

A good example are drug-related offences which illustrate how drugs and addiction are harming the community, he said. But Topp said he can understand the mayor’s motivation because the attack on Widholm happened in a public space — the city’s Ganatchio Trail.

Walkers and hikers travel along the Ganatchio Trails south extension at Little River Corridor Park on Thursday, near where Sara Anne Widholm was viciously attacked in 2017. PHOTO BY NICK BRANCACCIO /Windsor Star

Remarking on the weight given to a statement from the mayor of the city, Brown said she only hopes that the judge in the case, Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas, exercises fairness when he decides on sentencing.

Convicted of second-degree murder, Ahmadi is automatically sentenced to life. What’s still to be determined is when he’ll be eligible for parole. The Crown is seeking between 14 and 17 years, while Brown is seeking the minimum, 10 years. Ahmadi is a young man with no prior criminal record who has remained in custody since his arrest on the day of the attack, Brown said.

“I just want fairness for my client at the end of the day.”

The sentencing hearing is scheduled to resume Friday.

To read the mayor’s full community impact statement, go online to https://windsorstar.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Community-Impact-Statement-Widholm-1.pdf

bcross@postmedia.com

An information board and map with emergency access point (EAP) location coordinates is shown on Thursday at Little River Corridor Park near the location where Sara Anne Widholm was attacked and later died of her injuries. PHOTO BY NICK BRANCACCIO /Windsor Star

An Amherstburg woman who plead guilty to concealing the body of a child has been given a suspended sentence and two years of probation.

Samantha Richards, 24, was sentenced in a London court on Wednesday.

Richards pleaded guilty on May 18 to concealing the body of a child after an infant was found in a shopping bag in a dumpster in downtown London.

A charge of neglect to obtain assistance during child birth was withdrawn last December.

Her lawyer Patricia Brown said Richards feels shame, guilt and self-hatred and has kept to herself at home since being charged on June 21, 2016.

London police said a newborn was discovered behind 675 Richmond St. in London on June 16, 2016.

In a scene that could have been pulled from The Silence of the Lambs, seven police officers usher a handcuffed man into a Windsor courtroom.

The man has been made to wear a mesh hood with clear plastic over his face. He has mental health issues and spits when agitated, Ontario court Justice Micheline Rawlins explains to the courtroom in the moments before the man enters. He also smears his feces on the walls when he’s in jail, she adds.

“This is the reality we deal with every day,” said Patricia Brown, a defence lawyer with a mental health practice.

For some people with mental illness, getting arrested is a godsend, Brown says. Now, there will be a psychological assessment and probation officers arranging for counselling and treatment. “Coming before the courts is the first time they’ve been able to access those resources,” Brown said. “That’s where I find joy — being able to connect someone to the supports, the medication they need.”

Ontario court has special sessions called 672 Court where accused people with mental illness have their cases heard while Canadian Mental Health Association workers and other support people are readily available. The name, 672, refers to the section of the Criminal Code that deals with offenders with mental disorders. Mental health court is held every other Friday, but those cases can come up on any day in any courtroom.

Brown said Windsor has made great strides in bringing together police officers, correctional officers, lawyers and judges with health professionals to find ways to best handle offenders with mental illness.

But people who are resistant to treatment will find themselves back before the courts again and again.

“We should not be warehousing people who suffer from mental issues in jail,” Brown said. “We need to put treatment before punishment, but what do you do when someone doesn’t want help?”

The 45-year-old man in the spit mask is a case in point. Lawyers and judges know him well. Against the man’s wishes, the judge on a prior court appearance ordered a psychiatric assessment. The doctor’s report says the man, despite suffering from anti-social personality disorder, is fit to stand trial.

The latest instance that brings the man to court happened two months ago. He went berserk at a Tim Hortons, hurling rocks at cars in the parking lot and drive-thru lane. The hapless victims — a young boy in a car with his uncle and a Tims worker who had just gotten into her car after her shift — were traumatized.

Today, the man pleads guilty and gets released from the courthouse with time served. The police officers remove the mask and the handcuffs. Outside the courtroom, they follow at a distance as the man makes his way downstairs to sign his probation order.

Defence lawyer Dan Topp knows the man well. He has represented him in court when the man has been willing to accept the help.

Topp is often appointed by the court to help in cases involving mentally ill people. He used to do it for free before the province started a formal program to pay for lawyers known as amicus curiae.

“I did it because people need the help. It’s heartwrenching.”

Topp speaks of the revolving door of justice for mentally ill people who commit crimes.

“They fall through the cracks. They get arrested, they get released and they get arrested again. It’s a problem with the criminal justice system. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just the way it is.”

Ontario court Justice Lloyd Dean is one of the three local judges who rotate through the mental health court. Even when that court is not in session, lawyers with mentally ill clients will stickhandle the cases into the courtroom where Dean is presiding.

“I try to fit them in,” Dean says.

Dean says he tries to build rapport with mentally ill offenders, making small talk before dealing with the case. “Sometimes, it’s a matter of talking to them softy and calmly. … Like any human being, they want to know you care about them and you are listening to them.”

Dean says the law requires him, in sentencing, to consider the special circumstances of the offender at the time of the offence.

“Each offender is unique,” Dean says. “Believe me, I am on the lookout for truly evil people, that person I need to separate from society. Thankfully, we don’t have many truly evil people. Most people who come before me are people with some good qualities overtaken by circumstances in their life, circumstances like mental illness.”

Dean has seen offenders brought before him in spit masks, in shackles, surrounded by specially trained tactical officers. There are two who regularly appear in Windsor. Statistics are hard to come by, but Dean estimates that of the 1,500 to 2,000 cases he hears each year, only a handful involve aggressive offenders with mental illness.

When they come to court, they are often on their best behaviour. “They know they have to co-operate with the judge, so a lot of the time they aren’t as challenging for us as they are for authorities who have to bring them to court.”

Mentally ill inmates present “unique challenges” for jails, says Randy Simpraga, president of OPSEU Local 135, representing correctional officers at the South West Detention Centre in Windsor.

Mentally ill offenders often unintentionally provoke other inmates and become victims of assaults. The South West Detention Centre has a mental health unit, but many jails do not, Simpraga said.

“It’s easy for the mentally ill in jails to be forgotten. … We care about these people, we absolutely do, but there’s only so much we can do.”

Simpraga thinks back to Jonathan Algudady, a teenager with a compulsive eating disorder who was jailed for 26 days in 2003 for shoplifting food. “I remember Jonathan’s big brown eyes and thinking he shouldn’t be here. It broke my heart.”

Even today, there are inmates Simpraga knows would not be in jail were it not for their mental illness. He worries about their safety when they are behind bars and community safety when they’re not.

“If you’re sick, you shouldn’t be in jail. You should be getting help.”

A man who beat his six-year-old son with an electrical cord because he wasn’t eating his toast fast enough avoided a jail sentence Wednesday when a Windsor judge said the father was a changed man, loved by his wife and children.

“This is one of those rarest and exceptional cases,” Ontario court Justice Sharman Bondy said in a lengthy written ruling. A pre-sentence report, she said, was “positive, encouraging, might I say — exemplary” in describing the father of four young children.

Standing in the courtroom in a black suit, the 27-year-old father, who cannot be named under a publication ban issued by the court to protect the identity of his children, was handed a conditional discharge and placed on 36 months probation. He was ordered to continue with the anger management, parenting and other counselling he has been receiving. “Access to his children is still restricted,” said defence lawyer Patricia Brown.

Having escaped a criminal conviction, the man, a foreign national who came to Canada from Jamaica as an infant, improves his chances of not being kicked out of the country.

“He was facing a removal order. Had he been convicted, he would have been detained today for removal,” Brown told reporters after the ruling.

A teacher noticed a horseshoe-shaped welt on the son’s arm in late 2015, and after the Children’s Aid Society was brought in, the boy spoke of other beatings, and another brother, two years older, said the father also beat him. Investigators discovered that a USB charger cord had been used to physically discipline the child, who displayed welts on his chest, back and arms.

As part of a deal with the prosecution that saw the father plead guilty last July to a single count of assault with a weapon, two other charges were withdrawn. The Crown had been seeking a 30-day jail term followed by 24 months probation.

The judge made reference to the “serious consequences if convicted” of a crime, but she said the threat of the man’s removal from Canada wasn’t a consideration in her sentencing. Listing the anger management, parenting and other counselling and treatment the man has been receiving from the Children’s Aid Society, Canadian Mental Health Association and Hiatus House, Bondy said his post-offence rehabilitation efforts were “nothing short of remarkable and commendable.” She cited a court document describing him as “a good and loving father” with a wife who described their relationship as “healthy and mutually supportive.”

Bondy said a conditional discharge was in the best interests of the offender — who expressed remorse for assaulting the child — as well as, “more importantly, the public.” The judge said her sentence still provided the public with the message that corporal punishment is no alternative to “loving parenting.” She said the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the physical disciplining of children is acceptable “in very exceptional circumstances … but never with the use of objects.”

The man had spent five days in pre-sentence custody, but that was related to his immigration issues. The court heard that it wasn’t until after he turned 18 that the man discovered he did not have Canadian citizenship and that he is now seeking to remain in Canada on compassionate grounds. His wife, a Canadian citizen who accompanied the offender to the sentencing, told the court she and her children would be “devastated” if left on their own.

The father has moved on from supervised access to his children to monitored visits. One of his probation conditions is to not associate with the children unless permitted by the Children’s Aid Society or as directed by a court or child protection order. A lawyer appointed to serve in the children’s interests is “supportive” of such interaction, the court heard.

A report on the offender, portions of which were read out by the judge, described the man as having a limited educational and work history and having suffered a “traumatic” childhood with an abusive stepfather. Suffering from depression and anxiety, he is receiving medical treatment and benefitting, according to Bondy, from a “positive support system.”

The offender was ordered to submit a blood sample for a police DNA databank. During his three-year probation, he’s to abstain from drugs and alcohol and is prohibited from possessing weapons. “That can include a USB power cord used for punishment,” said Bondy.

You van also watch CTV News to get more information.

A Chatham man has been sentenced to 180 days in jail after admitting to a threat to blow up Canada’s parliament buildings.

But David Osterbrook, 51, will spend only 20 more days behind bars as he was credited for time served.

Osterbrook pleaded guilty Monday to one count of uttering a threat to burn, destroy or damage real or personal property.

The charge stems from an investigation involving Chatham-Kent police and the RCMP.

Court heard an RCMP corporal received a telephone call on April 10, 2015 from a man threatening to destroy property of Parliament.

The information was relayed to Chatham-Kent police who arrested the accused the same day.

Another charge of making a hoax regarding a terrorist activity was withdrawn.

Osterbrook was sentenced Monday to 180 days in jail. But he was credited with 10 days of pre-sentence custody and five months on bail conditions. Therefore, Osterbrook will spend the next 20 days in jail.

As part of his sentence, Osterbrook will be on probation for two years, he is prohibited from owning a firearm for five years and must pay a $200 fine.

The two men charged in the shooting of a bouncer at a downtown Windsor bar three years ago have been found not guilty.

Kevin Nyadu was charged with attempted murder the night Devonte Pierce was shot in the back at the Boom Boom Room nightclub. Shadrack Amankwa was charged with accessory to attempted murder.

Windsor bouncer shot at Boom Boom Room ‘happy to be alive’
In his decision, Justice Paul Howard outlined the lack of evidence in the trial, specifically saying there was no eyewitness to the shooting and no direct evidence Nyadu ever had the gun.

Evidence in the trial showed a DNA sample from the gun did not match either of the two men charged, explained Nyadu’s lawyer Patricia Brown. She also questioned the reliability of testimonies from people who were at the club that night.

“This case was extremely circumstantial,” Brown said. “None of the witnesses saw the shooting happen — that’s key.”

Devonte Pierce said he was lucky to be alive after nightclub shooting in 2014. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)

Earlier in the year, Brown had convinced the judge to exclude evidence of gun residue found on Nyadu’s hands. She filed a Charter of Rights application that said police violated her client’s rights by taking the residue evidence before he could speak to a lawyer.

Experts testified that gunshot residue alone is not something that can prove guilt because it is something that could be transferred from one person to another.

In his decision, Howard said he would still have found the two men not guilty, even if he had included the gunshot residue evidence.

“I’m pleased with the result, I’m glad this was the outcome for my client. But you must understand, for almost three years these charges were hanging over my client’s head.”

Nyadu was denied bail and spent 11 months in jail until Brown was finally able to have him released after three appeals of the original decision. After released, he was under strict house arrest and wasn’t able to go to school or work.

“This has been a long and arduous journey,” she said. “The importance of the presumption of innocence is something we have to hold at the forefront.”

Two Brampton men charged in a downtown Windsor shooting have been found not guilty.

Kevin Nyadu, 22, was acquitted on the charge of attempted murder and Shadrack Amankwa, 26, was acquitted on a charge of accessory to commit attempted murder.

In October 2014, Devonte Pierce, a bouncer at the Boom Boom Room in Windsor, was shot in the back, but survived.

In handing down his ruling, Justice JP Howard found it was physically impossible for Nyadu to be the shooter and there was no evidence that Amankwa was even in the nightclub at the time of the shooting.

“Who shot Devonte Pierce?” asked Justice Howard. “I can’t answer that with the evidence presented at trial.”

Outside Superior Court, Nyadu’s lawyer Patricia Brown says it was the right ruling.

“Our clients were innocent and maintained their innocence at the outset of these proceedings,” says Brown. “I think what is so important to take away from these proceeding is the presumption of innocence that Justice Howard spoke about.”

Brown says someone else fired the gun.

“The gun had someone else’s DNA on it. The DNA profile was something that was a huge opening, there is another person’s DNA on the gun,” says Brown.

Shadrack Amankwa walks out of court after being found not guilty of accessory to commit attempted murder. August 24, 2017 (Photo by AM800’s Teresinha Medeiros)

During the trial, court heard there weren’t any fingerprints found on the gun which was found in a bush and no one actually witnessed the shooting.

Both men were also found not guilty on several weapons-related charges.

The Crown submitted the two men were seen running from the scene of the shooting and a witness inside the club described a man dressed in red with a gun inside the club which matched what Nyadu was wearing.

A resolution to the case of the 50-year-old Chatham man charged for allegedly threatening to blow up Canada’s parliament buildings could be reached next month.

David Osterbrook’s case has been adjourned to June 15.

He’s charged with making a hoax related to a terrorist activity and uttering a threat to destroy personal property.

Osterbrook appeared in a Chatham courtroom on Wednesday where his lawyer asked for the case to be pushed on account of new information needing to be discussed. The Crown agreed.

Osterbrook is free from police custody after being arrested in April of last year.

Police allege Osterbrook called the Library of Parliament on April 10, 2015 threatening a “revolution” and was “ready for police to come.” He was arrested by Chatham-Kent police that day.

After being released on bail, Osterbrook was taken to Brentwood Recovery Home in Windsor.