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Crown, defence differ on sentencing for man involved in St. John's armed standoff

Sheriffs handcuff Jason Earle, 25, before escorting him out of a St. John's courtroom once his sentencing hearing wrapped up Thursday.
Sheriffs handcuff Jason Earle, 25, before escorting him out of a St. John's courtroom once his sentencing hearing wrapped up Thursday. - Tara Bradbury

Federal jail time would be 'crushing,' his father and lawyer say

Jason Earle's father is hoping a Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge won't side with the Crown when he sentences Earle in two weeks' time.

"It's too much," Billy Earle told The Telegram of prosecutor Erin Matthews' argument for four years in jail for his son, who was convicted of charges related to an armed standoff with police.

"How do you expect rehabilitation when the Crown is asking for such a huge sentence?"

— Billy Earle

Justice Vikas Khaladkar convicted Jason Earle a week ago of firearms charges as well as charges of uttering threats and assaulting an RNC officer in relation to the standoff at a Barachois Street home in September 2016.

Khaladkar accepted evidence presented at trial suggesting Earle had been suicidal and had gone to the Waterford Hospital earlier in the day, but had been turned away before he barricaded himself inside his mother’s home with a sawed-off shotgun.

In a call to 911, Earle made a report of an armed and dangerous man who was going to hurt people, and threatened to shoot police and himself.

"This is what's going to happen, OK?" he told the operator. "They're going to come in, I'm going to shoot them, they're going to shoot back, I'm going to die.

"I'm not going to jail. I'm going in the ground."

Khaladkar accepted evidence from Earle’s father that the gun had been discharged three times: once into the telephone, once near the patio door when Earle lost his balance and once out a front window as his father tried to disarm him.

At his sentencing hearing Thursday afternoon, the court heard from a psychologist who said Earle suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In suggesting a four-year jail term, Matthews acknowledged Earle's mental-health issues were "at the helm that day," and called the events tragic, given his willingness to take his own life.

She stressed, however, that Earle had put others in danger as well, including children playing on the street. It was only "by fluke" that police officers were not shot by the shotgun blast fired out the front window, Matthews said,

"There was a very real possibility that someone could have been injured or even killed. Mr. Earle had the intent to take his own life, which is in itself dangerous and concerning. There was a very real risk of harm from that firearm.

— Erin Matthews, Crown lawyer

"(Four years) is a heavy sentence, but it is fit. It's long, but it's warranted."

Earle's lawyer, Jennifer Curran, argued for a one-year jail sentence. She noted Earle had been inside the house, not in the community, with the firearm, and had not intended to hurt anyone but himself.

Curran said Earle is the "very active father" of a five-year-old daughter with Down syndrome and has a short adult criminal record, with no convictions in the past seven years. He is committed to participating in mental-health treatment, she said.

"I'm not going to stand up here and say gun violence isn't serious," Curran told the judge. "But in these circumstances, the Crown's proposed sentence would be crushing for my client.

"He knows he can't have these episodes. He knows they are dangerous for him, for his family and for law enforcement."

Khaladkar will sentence Earle Dec. 18.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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