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This article was published 19/12/2016 (1067 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A 41-year-old flood evacuee has been sentenced to jail and ordered to get treatment for his alcohol addiction after he admitted to participating in beating a sleeping homeless man who later died.
Oliver James Okemow pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the May 2014 death of 31-year-old Wayne Michael Harper, who was attacked twice by a group of men that included Okemow. Harper died of a brain bleed.
On Monday, Court of Queen's Bench Justice Brenda Keyser accepted defence counsel's recommendation and sentenced Okemow to two years less a day in jail going forward, plus three years of probation. The Crown asked the judge to impose a four- to seven-year sentence.
"I recognize that the sentence I am imposing is at the lower end of what might be considered appropriate in similar circumstances," Keyser said. "I have tried to balance the aggravating factors with the disadvantages suffered by Mr. Okemow and his prospects for rehabilitation. In this way, I believe the safety of the community is best served and the principles of sentencing best satisfied."
Like his victim, Okemow was homeless in May 2014 when he was part of a group of men who went looking for Harper to beat him up. One of the men in Okemow’s group was apparently upset over something Harper had said — the victim held himself out as an "enforcer," court heard previously.
They found Harper sleeping on Century Street, and Okemow admitted to being the last to join the beatings — one inflicted while Harper was asleep and the other while he was already injured and too intoxicated to fight back. Okemow punched Harper in the face and stomped on his stomach. He was arrested about six months after Harper’s death.
A second suspect, 51-year-old Lionel Branconnier, turned himself in to police in September and is facing a manslaughter charge. A third suspect has since died.
As part of his sentence, Okemow has been ordered to abstain from alcohol and complete addictions treatment programs as directed by his probation officer when he is released from jail. Okemow's defence lawyer, Theodore Mariash, previously told court his client is making an effort to deal with his alcoholism, which he acknowledged played a part in the fatal beating.
Mariash said Okemow was beset by "systemic disadvantages" that worsened when flooding forced him out of Lake St. Martin First Nation five years ago. He grew up around violence and alcoholism in Oxford House and later moved to Lake St. Martin with his wife. He and his family lived there until the provincial government diverted floodwater away from Winnipeg and toward the reserve, forcing a mass relocation in 2011.
Okemow "was a different person in Winnipeg," Mariash said. His marriage broke up in the year after the flood when his wife became concerned about his drinking. He'd been living on the street ever since.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.
Updated on Monday, December 19, 2016 at 6:05 PM CST: edited