Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Escaping from a gang criminal lifestyle, proves to be a challenge
WINNIPEG - He tried to walk away from a Winnipeg street gang – and ended up paralyzed for life.
Full details of a June 2008 attack emerged publicly for the first time this week, painting a grim picture of the challenge facing those who want to escape a criminal lifestyle.
Justin Meeches, 32, pleaded guilty Monday to shooting the 36-year-old victim twice in the head and back as payback for turning his back on the Indian Posse. He was sentenced to 10-years in prison under a joint-recommendation from Crown and defence lawyers.
"You deserve every minute of the time you will serve," said Queen’s Bench Justice Glenn Joyal.
Meeches admits going to the victim’s Ross Avenue home, armed with a .22 calibre rifle, and opening fire immediately after his former gang associate opened the door. The victim’s spinal cord was severed, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair.
The man’s girlfriend and a child were in the home at the time. He was rushed to hospital in critical condition but was briefly conscious and able to explain to police what happened. Police sealed off the area and spent hours searching for Meeches, who was able to escape. A Canada-wide warrant was eventually issued for his arrest and he was arrested weeks later.
"There’s no honour among thieves," Winnipeg police Const. Blair Good told the Free Press at the time.
Crown attorney Brent Davidson told court the victim had recently left the Indian Posse, which didn’t sit well with senior members including Meeches.
"He felt that the brotherhood the organization was founded upon was disintegrating and that members were simply interested in exerting their power and controlling the drug trade," said Davidson.
The victim was prepared for violence but only thought he was going to beaten by Meeches, court was told. Defence lawyer Kathy Bueti said Meeches was also planning to leave the Indian Posse once he "sent a message" by shooting the victim.
"He didn’t necessarily want to kill him... he knew a serious injury was possible.," said Bueti.
Meeches was originally charged with attempted murder but the Crown agreed to drop it in exchange for a guilty plea to the lesser offence of discharging a firearm with intent to maim or wound.
Meeches was given credit for 32 months of time already spent in custody, meaning he has another seven years, four months left on his sentence.
The fear or threat of retaliation from former gang members, is likely why it is very challenging for those who actually desire to exit the gang lifestyle, to do so, which is probably why many remain in the gang so they feel like they belong and do not have to fear retaliation.
I disagree with the 7 year sentence and feel it is too harsh. The defendant likely came from a background of poverty, unemployment, low levels of education and lived in a neighbourhood filled with negative influences and role models and crime. He probably joined a gang, to feel a sense of belonging, often tied to parental abuse or neglect.
Prisons are negative environments which do not solve the causes of crime. This man will likely become more involved in the gang and drug lifestyle in prison, as both are prevalent. Prisons do not offer any programs for those involved in gangs and the violence prevention programs they currently offer, are underfunded and have long waiting lists. Overcrowding means that resources and programming cannot be distributed evenly to those who need them. Prisoners are often released with little assistance, no rehabilitation, housing or employment and are more likely to re-offend and return to their previous criminal lifestyle. This is not in society`s best interests.
I would have sentenced this man to between 2-3 years in a minimum security prison, such as Rockwood Institution, where gang influences are lessened and where he could earn day parole faster to begin working in the community and attending effective community programming. He should be required to attend violence prevention programming, programming and counseling that addresses the underlying causes of his criminal behaviour and be assisted in finding employment.