B.C. man acquitted of manslaughter after fatal fight at house party


A Vancouver Island man has been acquitted of manslaughter after he violently defended himself in an altercation with a 53-year-old attacker following an alcohol-fuelled house party.


British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth McDonald found Andrew Steve Alphonse not guilty of the charge Friday, more than four years since the fatal incident in Duncan, B.C.


Alphonse, who was 43 years old at the time, repeatedly rebuffed Richard Henry as the older man tried to start a physical fight with him on Jan. 20, 2020, the court heard.


“I believe the accused when he describes the fear he felt for the deceased,” the judge wrote in her decision published online Wednesday. “I accept that the accused believed the deceased, who by all accounts was in a rage, was determined to beat him up and capable of seriously injuring him.”


The altercation began when both men were at the party, consuming alcohol. Multiple witnesses testified that Alphonse ignored Henry as he began calling him names and trying to instigate a physical altercation.


‘Uncontrolled anger’


Henry’s romantic partner at the time, Christine George, testified that she could not calm him down, telling the court he was “in a state of uncontrolled anger,” the judge said.


“She had experienced the deceased’s anger before, and she realized there was no reaching the deceased at this point due to his consumption of hard liquor,” she said.


Another partygoer escorted Henry outside in an effort to calm him down. George left the house shortly thereafter, partially out of fear of Henry’s potential for violence, she said.


She awoke in the night and became concerned for Henry, calling his cellphone multiple times but getting no answer.


When she went back to the duplex where the party had been, she found the home dark and silent. She didn’t see anyone inside and didn’t turn on the lights before leaving, she testified.


She returned home but continued to worry before deciding to return to the duplex and take a closer look around. This time she saw Henry lying on his side on the floor, unresponsive near a wall in the living room.


She woke up a man who was sleeping in the same room and asked what had happened. Then she called 911. The dispatcher advised her to roll Henry onto his back and administer chest compressions, which she did, she told the court.


The fatal fight


George’s niece, Eliza George, was also at the party that night and confirmed the testimony of others who said Henry was relentless in trying to get Alphonse to fight him.


“She overheard the accused respond to the deceased that he did not want to fight so many times that it was actually annoying,” the judge said, summarizing the woman’s evidence.


Eliza, who was 19 years old at the time, said that after Henry was taken outside, the party began to wind down and the accused went into the living room and laid down on a cot.


Some time later, she said she saw the hallway light turn on and Henry enter the living room, still seeming “pretty aggressive” and “mad,” she said.


Henry walked up to the cot where Alphonse was sleeping and struck him, waking him up, the court heard.


Alphonse again said he did not want to fight, but Henry struck him again, she testified. Soon both men were trading blows, tumbling over behind a recliner where the fight continued on the floor, out of clear view from the witness.


“She could see the deceased’s feet sticking out from behind the sofa from where she sat on the cot,” the judge wrote. “After they were on the ground behind the sofa, she noticed the deceased’s feet stopped moving, except when she heard the sound of strikes. While she could hear the blows, she could not see them.”


Alphonse now had the upper hand, punching and kicking Henry about three more times, she testified.


“When asked how those kicks looked, Eliza George said it looked like someone crushing a pop can with their foot,” the judge summarized. “She saw the accused’s knee go up, but she could not see where his foot landed because of the sofa blocking her view.”


Henry pronounced dead


Police and an attending paramedic testified that Henry was in cardiac arrest when they arrived. They could not get the victim’s jaw open to establish an airway and attempts to shock his heart into rhythm with a defibrillator were unsuccessful.


Henry was admitted to Cowichan District Hospital at 5:21 a.m. and was pronounced dead 12 minutes later, according to evidence presented by the attending physician. Dr. Gary Toth estimated the patient’s heart had not beat for a few hours.


An autopsy determined the man’s death was due to blunt force head injuries, with other possible factors including an airway obstruction and heart disease that may have left him more susceptible to cardiac arrest.


Alphonse testified that he remembered little from that night but did recall fearing that Henry was determined to beat him up. “I was terrified for my life and because he wouldn’t stop wanting to come after me,” he told the court. “He just wanted to beat me up. And I was scared.”


The judge sided with the defence’s position that Alphonse did everything he could to avoid an altercation with Henry until he had no choice but to defend himself. The Crown had argued that Alphonse went far beyond self-defence when he kicked and stomped on Henry while he was on the floor


“I accept the accused’s assertion of a defensive purpose in fighting with the deceased,” the judge ruled. “I find that the accused believed the deceased, who by all accounts was in an uncontrolled rage and fixated on fighting, could beat the accused up and badly hurt him.”

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