Nine months in jail for pushing senior off cliff
Oct 03 2012
A 30-year-old Victoria man who pushed an elderly birdwatcher off a cliff on Dallas Road in February 2011 has been sentenced to nine months in jail.
Joshua Skinner pleaded guilty in June to the aggravated assault of Roy Prior, 78, and the assault of Jason Easton, a Good Samaritan who came to Prior's rescue. Skinner received a 60-day concurrent sentence for the assault on Easton.
"By committing an unprovoked assault on an elderly victim, you've offended a core value of society - the protection of the innocent, and particularly the vulnerable," said Victoria provincial court Judge Jeanne Harvey. "The offence warrants a custodial sentence."
Court heard that Skinner, who was going through a breakup with his girlfriend, took two bottles of wine to Dallas Road on Feb. 20, 2011, and drank one bottle. He has no memory of the offences, and remembers only waking up in Victoria police jail cells.
Prior, who had been walking alone, was standing near the embankment when Skinner approached him from behind and said: "You want to be down there?"
Skinner pushed Prior over the 12-metre bank, then lost his balance and tumbled behind him. Prior fractured his pelvis and received cuts and bruises.
Easton was on the beach with his seven-year-old son and heard Skinner yelling at Prior. He tried to protect Prior but was assaulted himself, Harvey noted.
"He was having a great deal of trouble trying to control your behaviour and was concerned you were trying to bash his head against a rock," Harvey told Skinner.
Easton called 911. When police arrived, they arrested Skinner. Prior was moved by police boat to an ambulance.
Pre-sentence reports described Skinner as a stable, supportive, conscientious citizen with a good employment record. His family calls him a good man, and his employer supported him throughout the court process.
"All of this is very difficult to comprehend," Harvey said, questioning how Skinner was turned "into this belligerent, aggressive, ferocious individual... . No one seems to have any explanation."
Prior, who was bedridden for three months, has become a hermit, she said.
"He feels like his life has been ruined," Harvey said. "He's lost faith in his own capacity to take care of himself."
Easton was also surprised and confused, Harvey said, and had to protect his young son.
"You've left victims behind that physically may be all right, but psychologically they have suffered serious harm," the judge said.
Harvey found as aggravating factors that Prior was physically vulnerable, the attack unprovoked, that the assault occurred in a public place of peace and enjoyment, that Prior was unknown to his assailant and that the nature of the attack left him unable to defend himself. The assault on Easton was also considered an aggravating factor.
Mitigating factors were Skinner's lack of criminal records, his relative youth, the support of his family, friends and employers, his guilty plea and her belief that he is truly remorseful.
Skinner has abstained from alcohol since the incident and will continue to do so, Harvey said. Court reports indicate he is at low risk for reoffending.
Outside court, Easton called the nine-month jail sentence fair.
"He still doesn't remember what happened," Easton said. "I can't imagine what that is like for him."
His son, now nine, has attended counselling and is doing well, he said.
He recalled how stressful it was trying to keep his son safe while worrying that Skinner was going to go back and hurt Prior. Each time he thought he had physically subdued Skinner, Skinner would get up again.
"He was freakishly strong," Easton said. "I still want to know what really happened. How can he not remember anything?"
Prior did not wish to comment on the sentencing.