POLITICS

Teen shot in head recalls 'darkness'; consecutive sentences an option

01/09/2015 04:05 EST | Updated 03/10/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - More than two years, four surgeries and 1,200 stitches later, a teenager shot in the head in a crowded downtown food court recalled on Friday what little he remembers of the attack that left him so close to death.

In a victim-impact statement, Connor Stevenson, 15, told Superior Court how he heard gunshots at the landmark Eaton Centre in June 2012 that left two people dead and injured him and four others.

"People started to panic," Connor said. "My head felt funny, and then just total darkness."

Connor's shattered skull is now made in large part of plastic. Bullet shards remain lodged in his head. He has frequent headaches and had to give up contact sports, court heard.

Christopher Husbands, 25, who shot Connor who was shopping with his mom and sister, is facing sentencing for convictions on two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of Nixon Nirmalendran, 22, and Ahmed Hassan, 24, at the mall.

He was also convicted of aggravated assault and criminal negligence in the shooting that sparked panic and horrified the city.

At issue is how long he must serve before becoming eligible for parole.

Based on juror recommendations, the Crown has suggested they will be asking he serve at least 20 years for each of the two murder counts — consecutively.

Late Friday, Suprior Court Justice Eugene Ewaschuk agreed recent legislation allows him to impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility.

Husbands' lawyer Dirk Derstine said he will challenge the constitutionality of the provision when court resumes March 30, saying it amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

In their submissions earlier in the day, Connor's mom, dad and older sister all spoke of the devastating impact of the shooting: ongoing fear, feelings of guilt and helplessness, constant revisiting of the horrors that befell the family.

"A trip to the Eaton Centre cost my son years of painful operations," his mother, Jo-Anne Finney, told the court.

"How could I put my son in this situation?"

The shooting, she said, had left her with a feeling of "extreme fear or true absolute terror."

Taylor Stevenson, 17, who helped cradle her brother as he lost consciousness on the food-court floor, said she wakes up every morning worrying about his safety.

The "meaningless, heartless event" changed so many lives, she told court.

"One of the worst things has already happened to us," she said, fighting tears.

In his statement, father Craig Stevenson said the family had earlier lost a child at age 18 months and the shooting rekindled those terrible feelings.

He found his wife and daughter at the hospital covered in blood from head to toe from the stricken boy.

"Christopher Husbands has inflicted a life sentence of pain and suffering on Connor and many others," he said, directly addressing the accused, who mostly sat expressionless.

The Crown had argued the shooting was the result of a feud between Husbands and the two men he killed.

Hassan's sister, Amren Hassan, wept on the stand as she said her "baby brother" had been gunned down.

"Ahmed, contrary to his portrayal in the media, was a caring and loving young man," she said.

"He spoke no ill words of others and wished no harm on them either."

Nirmalendran's mother, Vigneswary Nirmalendran, described how her family has been devastated.

She was at a loss as to how he had been caught up in the events that led to his killing.

"Everyone will say my son was bad," Nirmalendran said. "But for me, he was not like that."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. The headline of an earlier story said the judge had nixed the consecutive sentences.