Warning: This story contains graphic details that may disturb some readers.
A Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., man convicted of manslaughter in the death of his year-old son bowed his head in the prisoner's box Monday at the start of his sentencing hearing.
At times, Damien Starrett appeared to wipe away tears in the Edmonton courtroom as he listened to victim impact statements from family members.
In June, Starrett was found guilty of manslaughter in the November 2019 death of his son Ares Starrett. He was also convicted of assault in an attack on his five-year-old daughter.
Ares died of blunt-force trauma to his head after his father punched, kicked and stomped on his head as his terrified sister looked on.
Starrett, 33, was originally charged with second-degree murder. But after all the evidence was in, the Crown conceded there was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he had the necessary criminal intent.
The sentencing hearing began Monday in Court of Queen's Bench.
Starrett's former partner walked to the witness stand clutching a teddy bear and a package of tissues. Then she began to speak of the pain her family has endured for the past three years.
CBC is not identifying the mother in order to protect her surviving daughter's identity.
"It's hard to think about my son at times as it hurts too much," the mother said.
"Some days I can't even look at [a] picture of Ares as it's hard to get the final image of him before the ambulance took him away out of my head."
The mother said she held her baby one last time before she placed his tiny body into a casket. But the memory haunts her because she thought she kept seeing Ares breathe.
The mother said she is coping with PTSD and hearing a baby cry is enough to make her panic.
As part of her victim impact statement, the mother wrote a letter to her late son.
"I'm so sorry I wasn't there to protect you. You must have been so scared," she wrote.
"I hope you didn't feel any pain in your last moments. Though I don't believe that is true. Not after the way your little body looked, but it's much easier to hope differently."
The mother also talked about the challenge of raising her daughter, who is now afraid of men and hides in the closet when she's scared.
"Your sister loves you so much," the mother said in the letter to her late son. "She says she wants to tell her friends she has a brother, but then she will also have to tell them you died."
The victim's grandfather said that he talks to a photo of his late grandson every day.
"It was a brutal murder that's still hard to wrap my head around," the grandfather wrote in his victim impact statement.
"I have a lot of anger towards that man and what he did to my family."
None of the family members named the accused.
"The offender's name will forever be forgotten and Ares's legacy will always live on," the victim's aunt said.
'The most traumatic event'
Starrett, who had been on house arrest while out on bail, was taken back into custody in late June after he was convicted.
Before he was granted house arrest, he had spent nine months behind bars at the Edmonton Remand Centre.
Starrett's lawyer, Rory Ziv, told the court he plans to present evidence about the allegedly cruel and unusual treatment his client was subjected to while in custody.
On Wednesday, Ziv intends to present an application for a stay of Starrett's conviction.
In a Gladue report that was entered as an exhibit, the author notes that feces were thrown into Starrett's cell on the second day he was in custody in November 2019.
"He says he called the guards from his cell and was laughed at," the report states.
"Damien advises he was in his cell for approximately 30 minutes when he began to cut his wrists and tried to hang himself."
Gladue reports explain an Indigenous offender's family and community history to the judge who is deciding on the sentence.
Starrett told the Gladue report author that the death of his son was "the most traumatic event" of his life.
He also complained about three months of "constant harassment and torment by a vigilante group who camped outside their home" in Fort Saskatchewan when he was released on house arrest.
The report author interviewed Starrett's 75-year-old grandfather who said, "Damien does not believe he killed his son Ares."
Starrett was living with his grandparents when he was granted bail. He told the author of the Gladue report that he plans to return to living with his grandfather in Fort Saskatchewan after he has served his sentence.
"Damien indicates when he has been vindicated for his offence, he will be able to grieve the loss of his son and address everything he has been through," the author noted.
The sentencing hearing resumes Wednesday.