WARNING: This story contains distressing details
A long, emotional trial came to an end Tuesday morning in Edmonton Court of King's Bench when a Fort Saskatchewan father was sentenced for the manslaughter death of his infant son and the assault of his five-year-old daughter.
Damien Starrett was sentenced to seven years in prison for what the judge described as "an extreme act of brutality."
The judge reduced Starrett's sentence to four and a half years after taking into consideration a number of factors, including the time Starrett has already spent in custody and on strict house arrest.
The judge's decision infuriated the victims' grandfather, who began voicing his displeasure before the judge even left the courtroom. Once the judge exited, he erupted in anger that was aimed at Starrett, the Crown prosecutors and the justice system in general. The children's mother was quickly embraced by supporters as she sat sobbing on a courtroom bench.
Starrett, 33, was caring for his two children in November 2019 when he suddenly attacked them.
Starrett's son Ares had just celebrated his first birthday.
"He punched, kicked and stomped this very vulnerable child in the head and facial areas multiple times," Justice John Henderson wrote in his 22-page decision. "Within a few minutes, the child died due to blunt cranial trauma."
Starrett's five-year-old daughter witnessed the attack. Her identity is protected by a court-ordered publication ban. Starrett punched her at least twice in the side of the head.
"There is no evidence of any planning or deliberation on Mr. Starrett's part," Henderson wrote.
"He acted out in an impulsive and disproportionate manner by striking out against his children."
Henderson wrote that Starrett was "overwhelmed by a confluence of circumstances" when he attacked his children, including suffering from heroin withdrawal, insomnia and back pain.
The judge concluded that Starrett was "wilfully blind to the consequences of his actions."
Judge denounces remand centre guards' behaviour
Henderson reduced Starrett's sentence by three months for what he called "state misconduct."
While Starrett was incarcerated and about to be released on house arrest from the Edmonton Remand Centre, he was subjected to what the judge described as "grossly inappropriate conduct" by the guards.
According to the written decision, the guards called Starrett "a baby killer" and one guard told him, "I can't believe they are letting you go. You should kill yourself."
Henderson firmly denounced the guards' behaviour.
"This was a gross violation of their duty to protect inmates at the remand centre," he wrote.
The judge also decided that Starrett should get another four-month deduction on his sentence for being placed in remand administrative segregation during COVID-19, then being subjected to vigilantism at his Fort Saskatchewan home once he was released on house arrest.
Justice Henderson also reduced Starrett's sentence by 13 and a half months for "very restrictive, onerous" conditions during house arrest.
Outside court, Starrett's lawyer said his client was still trying to come to terms with the sentencing decision.
"I'm glad that the judge recognized a lot of the factors I was asking him to recognize," Rory Ziv told reporters. "Of course, I would have liked the sentence to be lower, but at least this gives my client a chance.
"I want you to remember there's no winners in this case. I've said that before. Everybody loses."
Ziv said he hopes Starrett will be allowed to serve his time in a medium-security facility and that there will be no further security issues.
The judge imposed a no-contact order with Starrett's former partner and daughter while he remains incarcerated.
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