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Ontario Appeal Court lowers sentences for couple who tortured disabled man

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TORONTO - Ontario's top court has lowered the sentences of a Hamilton couple who held a developmentally disabled man captive and tortured him while draining his bank account to buy drugs and video game equipment.

Dakota Thompson and Stanley Brown were part of a group convicted of aggravated assault and forcible confinement for inflicting horrific injuries on a 23-year-old disabled man over more than two weeks in 2009.

Brown was originally sentenced to 13 years — nearly double the sentence the defence and Crown had jointly suggested — and Thompson was sentenced to 10 years, which was also far more than the Crown had recommended.

Thompson, 23, and Brown, 33, appealed their sentences, arguing that the trial judge was wrong to depart so markedly from the Crown's position for Thompson and the joint submission for Brown without giving any reasons for doing so.

The Court of Appeal for Ontario agreed, ruling that though the crimes were "extraordinarily egregious," the joint submission for Brown should be reinstated, and Thompson should receive a lesser sentence since she was less involved in the abuse.

The Appeal Court sentenced Brown to serve seven years and two months and Thompson to six years and eight months.

With credit for pre-trial custody and the time they have already been serving since they were sentenced in 2010, they would be eligible to apply for parole in about a year.

The three-judge Appeal Court panel said that without the joint submission and Crown recommendation, "left to our own devices," they would have imposed sentences between what they settled on and the trial judge's original sentences.

"However, the guilty pleas were negotiated in the context of that joint submission (for Brown) and the Crown's stance regarding Ms. Thompson," the court said.

"Weighing the circumstances of these offenders and notwithstanding the egregious nature of the crimes they committed, we cannot say that the joint submission could be considered to be contrary to the public interest or that giving effect to it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute."

WARNING: Graphic details from this court case may disturb some readers.

The group of people involved in the torture — Thompson, Brown, their roommate and a youth — lured the victim to their apartment by telling him they were going to help him look for a missing cellphone.

Instead, they confined him there for 17 days, burned him with a hair straightener, made him eat feces and drink urine, beat him and poured cayenne pepper into the bath when he tried to wash his wounds.

They essentially used him as their "personal automatic teller machine," the Crown said, forcing him to give them his bank card and PIN. His account was completely drained and the group bought marijuana, Xboxes, iPods and video games.

When the victim was discovered by police he had facial fractures, disfiguring injuries and a gaping head wound. One of the first officers on scene thought he was dead.

The Appeal Court decision notes the victim has made a "relatively" full recovery, though he does have permanent scars.

The lawyers noted in the appeals that the abusers are not without their own impairments. Brown has Fetal alcohol syndrome, Asperger syndrome and is of borderline intelligence. Thompson had a troubled upbringing and was addicted to Percocet and OxyContin.

It was not a case of the strong preying on the weak, but rather the weak preying on the weak, one said.

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