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Man charged with murder pleads guilty to assault

Mar 15 2012

How Nicholas Fantasia died remains a mystery, as the Ontario man originally charged with his murder pleaded guilty Wednesday to assault causing bodily harm.

Victoria provincial court Judge Robert Higinbotham sentenced Ryan Demorest to 10 months in jail for assaulting the 35-year-old homeless drug addict on Oct. 5, 2008, the night he died.

Fantasia’s body was pulled from the Inner Harbour near the Regency Hotel on Nov. 5, 2008. An autopsy found a fracture of Fantasia’s orbital bone. Although there was indication Fantasia died from drowning, there was no conclusive cause of death.

“The case is complicated because Mr. Fantasia’s tragic death came within a relatively short time of the assault. There may or may not be a causal connection with his death,” Higinbotham said.

“I will never know. But I must give you the benefit of the doubt and not sentence you on the grounds of the tragic outcome. Mr. Fantasia may have died from the damage you inflicted, or there may be some other cause.”

Demorest, 26, has been in custody at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre since his arrest last July. The 10-month sentence means he must serve a further 60 days in jail.

Elizabeth Nicol, the mother of Fantasia’s 12-year-old daughter, sat tearfully in the back row of the courtroom.

“Nick was one of my favourite people. Even though he had a major drug problem, he was still one of the few people in this world I would be very proud to call the father of my child,” Nicol said.

Prosecutor Ruth Picha told the court that Demorest was collecting a $200 drug debt from Fantasia that night. He led Fantasia down to the “whale wall” and punched him twice in the face.

“Whatever happened to Mr. Fantasia, he was put in a vulnerable position at the whale wall,” Picha said. “We don’t know what occurred to cause his death, but it occurred that night in that area. He was a vulnerable street person left in a vulnerable state by the assault.”

Defence lawyer Anthony Robinson told the court Demorest extricated himself from the drug-trafficking culture and was living crime-free and drug-free in Ontario before his arrest. He was also actively involved in caring for his two-year-old son.

If assault causing bodily harm had been the charge from the outset, Demorest would have pleaded right away and would have served two-thirds of his sentence by now, Robinson said.

Higinbotham agreed the matter could have been dealt with much earlier and Demorest would have been serving his sentence rather than awaiting trial. The judge ordered him to submit a sample of his DNA and imposed a lifetime weapons prohibition.

Demorest also pleaded guilty to assaulting a guard at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre on Sept. 29.

Court heard he became agitated, verbally aggressive and flipped over a tray when he was moved to another unit and photographs of his son disappeared. During the altercation, Demorest struck an officer on the head.

Demorest was choked into unconsciousness and spent 60 days in segregation. He received a 60-day concurrent sentence for assaulting the jail guard.


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