A father who assaulted his infant son while high on cocaine has been sentenced to 18 months house arrest.
“He had a responsibility to care for and to protect the child, and instead he did exactly the opposite, putting the child’s health and safety at risk,” Judge Shauna Hewitt-Michta remarked during sentencing.
In January, Matthiew Ducharme pleaded guilty to assault causing bodily harm and he was sentenced in Brandon court on Monday.
At the time of the plea, Crown attorney Grant Hughes described the events surrounding the March 18, 2012, assault at an RM of Oakland home.
That afternoon, the child’s mom and grandmother left the home to go to Brandon and left Ducharme to care for the four-month-old.
All seemed well when the women left. The child was asleep after having its diaper changed some time before.
But, on the way to Brandon, mother and grandmother received a call from Ducharme. He told them the baby had had a seizure and wasn’t breathing.
The mother returned home to find paramedics attending to the child who was taken to the Brandon hospital, and then later examined at the Children’s Hospital in Winnipeg.
Medical staff determined that the child had suffered a seizure and the resulting stress had affected its breathing.
The boy survived and has since recovered with no need for ongoing treatment once he left hospital.
Ducharme was arrested a couple of days after the assault. He admitted that, out of frustration with the boy, he’d grabbed the child’s legs and squeezed hard enough to leave bruises in the shape of finger marks.
No reason has been given for Ducharme’s impatience with the child.
Ducharme would later tell authorities that he was under the influence of cocaine at the time.
Initially, it was believed that the boy’s thighs had been squeezed so hard that it had caused a loss of circulation that led to the seizure. However, Hughes indicated that it would have been tough to prove that in court.
As such, Ducharme doesn’t admit that his actions caused a seizure. He was sentenced solely for squeezing the boy’s legs and causing bruising.
Hughes asked Hewitt-Michta to sentence Ducharme to six to 12 months in jail followed by two years probation, but didn’t argue against the possibility of a conditional sentence.
Defence lawyer Philip Sieklicki suggested a conditional sentence of nine months for his client, who has shown remorse for the assault — he had been the one to call the ambulance — and had no prior criminal record.
Ducharme, 20, had grown up in a home where there was violence and substance abuse, Sieklicki said. He’d often be left to care with his son and his mother-in-law’s young children.
“Perhaps Mr. Ducharme was not ready to be the father that he should have been,” Sieklicki said.
Ducharme has since taken substance abuse, anger management and parenting counselling, his lawyer added.
Hewitt-Michta chose to impose 18 months house arrest and 80 hours community service work as part of a conditional sentence, followed by one year of probation.
The judge said she struggled with a conditional sentence but felt that she was legally required to consider the option.
That, in part, includes a requirement that she consider Ducharme’s troubled upbringing as an aboriginal.
“Were I to follow my personal instincts, I would impose a real jail sentence of long duration … I’m giving you a conditional sentence order with some considerable reluctance,” Hewitt-Michta said. “I’m doing it because I feel the law requires me to do it here, and because Parliament has left the door open to a conditional sentence order even in these circumstances.”
As part of his sentence and probation, Ducharme isn’t to have contact or communication with his son, nor with the child’s mother. He’s had no contact with the boy since the assault.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 25, 2014