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‘I became the very thing I hated most,’ Snook says

08/30/2013 09:17 EDT | Updated 10/30/2013 05:12 EDT
Former Saint John councillor Donnie Snook says he became the very thing he hated most — a child molester.

Snook made the comment on Friday, the second day of his sentencing hearing on 46 sex abuse charges.

He apologized to his 17 young male victims and the community at large.

He said he's "ashamed" of his actions, takes full responsibility for the wrong choices he made, and wishes he could turn back time.

Snook, 41, pleaded guilty in May to the charges, which include sexual assault, sexually touching a minor while in a position of trust, making child pornography and extortion.

The offences date back to 2001 and involve boys as young as five years old.

The provincial courtroom heard that Snook was abused himself by a family friend at the age of 10, but Snook said he wasn't going to blame anyone else for the things he chose to do.

He said he hopes the truth can, at least, bring some peace to his victims and their families, and that they can somehow, in time, forgive him.

Outbursts in courtroom

"Cry me a river," said one man at the back of the courtroom.

"You don't deserve it," shouted another man, jumping to his feet. "Seventeen kids," he said, before being escorted out of the courtroom by at least three sheriffs.

Another man slumped over, sobbing, while a woman beside him tried to comfort him.

Snook, who was fighting back tears and taking long pauses to compose himself as he addressed the courtroom, said he realizes it won't be possible for many people to forgive him.

But he still wanted to say he is sorry to God, his family, friends, colleagues, the community, and mostly, his victims and their families.

He betrayed their trust and failed them, he said.

"It's too late now, but I know I had absolutely no right to put myself in a position of trust," without dealing with his abuse, said Snook.

"I became the very thing I hated most — a person who sexually molests children," he said, adding he doesn't understand how that could happen.

Crown recommends 21-year sentence

Crown prosecutor Karen Lee Lamrock recommended Snook be sentenced to 21 years in prison, with no eligibility for parole for at least 10 years.

She said she initially tried to calculate a recommended sentence based on the individual victims, but came up with a total of more than 75 years.

Some of the aggravating factors included the number of victims, which Lamrock compared to the size of a kindergarten class, as well as the period of time the abuse continued — about 13 years.

Lamrock also stressed Snook's position of trust as an aggravating factor. He had access to victims and the trust of parents because of his position as a youth ministry leader, she said.

The fact he abused a foster child, placed in his care by the Department of Social Development, was also striking, said Lamrock.

Snook also abused a number of children who were visiting one of his foster children. So he used that child to gain access to victims, she said.

Snook also had unprotected sex with the victims, induced group sexual activities, permitted them to use alcohol and drugs, and used money as an incentive.

The Crown noted his behaviour increased in frequency, severity and aggressiveness over time, up to and including the extortion charge, where Snook threatened to post naked images of a boy on the internet if he refused to continue to co-operate.

A pre-sentence report found Snook is "clearly a pedophile," who is at the high end of the moderate risk level to re-offend, said Lamrock.

Snook is optimistic about treatment and rehabilitation, she said.

But the "driving factor " behind his behaviour "appears to be his deviant sexual interest in children," which is "not likely to go away," according to psychologist and associate University of New Brunswick professor Mary Ann Campbell.

It is "part of his sexual orientation," she said, after spending about 12 hours interviewing Snook and conducting psychological tests. However, Campbell did suggest Snook can learn to "manage" it with treatment.

Campbell, who is an expert in risk assessment and behaviour, also addressed whether Snook being abused as a child may have contributed to his crimes.

She said only three to 12 per cent of abuse victims go on to sexually offend as adults. Their risk is higher if they "suffer in silence" and don't disclose the abuse, or if they do tell someone and aren't believed, she said.

Campbell also found Snook is capable of feeling empathy, but didn't at the time he was abusing his victims.

She said he tended to regret his behaviour after the fact, but it wasn't strong enough to stop him.

Some of the mitigating factors, the Crown said, are that Snook pleaded guilty and co-operated with police. She said investigators would not have known about a number of the victims if Snook hadn't told them. There were also several victims police knew about but who likely wouldn't have given statements if Snook hadn't told first, she said.

Victims speak

Lamrock read two victim impact statements aloud in court, including one from a victim known only as H.I., who had reported being abused by Snook back in 2007, but no charges were laid at that time.

He says he was naive. "I actually thought something was going to be done about this." He questions how many others were affected by what he says "could have been stopped almost a decade ago."

H.I. says this experience will stay with him forever. "It makes you question your worth … deep down to your foundation as a person."

It's hard to live life like a regular teenager after an adult he trusted betrayed him "like that," he said, describing his feelings as a "combustible mixture of hatred, betrayal and self-pity."

H.I. says he's happy it's finally over and hopes that youth in the area will be able to find a role model worthy of the respect Snook once had.

Several people in the courtroom were shaking their heads and wiping away tears as the statement was being read.

The Crown also read a statement from the mother of a victim known as B.C., a 12-year-old boy with cognitive difficulties.

She says she feels like "the worst mother in the world" for not being able to protect her son.

The boy doesn't talk much, has had a hard time making friends, and isolated himself, she said. But once he met Snook, she saw a change in him. He became the happy boy she always wanted.

She says she feels betrayed and angry that her son's innocence was taken away for Snook's "pleasurable moments."

She has trouble sleeping imagining all the "horrible" things Snook has done.

Only three victims and seven parents submitted victim impact statements, said the Crown.

The two victims who were abused the longest — A.B. for seven years and L.M. for five years — did not give statements, she said, adding most of the victims are not involved in any counselling.

Lamrock also noted that even the ones who submitted statements know how they feel today, but most are still children and it's difficult to predict what the long-term impacts will be.

Defence lawyer Dennis Boyle recommended a sentence of 12 years in prison.

Provincial court Judge Alfred Brien has reserved sentencing until Oct. 10. Snook remains in custody.

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