Sunday, March 30, 2008

Reservist irate before slaying, trial told

One of three charged in homeless man's death hated `bums,' major says
Mar 27, 2008 04:30 AM
Rosie DiManno

The Canadian Forces major used to be a Peel police officer, no doubt acquainted with witness box appearances, so the formal cop-speak came back easily, like riding a bicycle.

Thus, in recounting yesterday how he tried to neutralize a combustible situation with a couple of apparently intoxicated army reservists – on an evening that ended in murder – Peter St. Denis employed the stiff semantics of his former profession.

It was around 4 o'clock in the morning, Aug. 31, 2005. Rifleman Brian Deganis and Corp. Jeffrey Hall were outside the front entrance of the Moss Park Armoury, having a heated exchange, the latter seemingly attempting to restrain the former.

"(Deganis) is trying to (push) back Corp. Hall and verbalizing that he wants to have a confrontation with someone."

The object of Deganis's alleged fury was an unidentified figure in a nearby bus shelter.

"What are you talking about?" St. Denis told court, recalling his opening inquiry to Deganis as he came upon the two men.

"Get inside the building now and be quiet. There are people inside and you're making noise.

"My intent was to defuse the situation, to calm Brian Deganis down."

Well, that's not quite how the conversation went, as St. Denis expounded shortly afterwards, urged by Crown Attorney Hank Goody to repeat exactly what was said.

"I told him to shut the f--- up, quit f-----g around. `People are sleeping, you're going to wake them up. I don't care what's going on out there. This is their show. You're ruining it with your f-----g actions. So calm the f--- down.'''

Bivouacking in the armoury were a bunch of German troops, who'd just completed a two-week training course with their Canadian counterparts, at the end of a long night of drinking at a bar on the Esplanade.

St. Denis, back then a captain with the Queen's Own Rifles, had organized the socializing farewell event and was in charge of supervising the sleepover.

But four reservists had caused a racket outside and St. Denis had gone to investigate.

Three of the reservists – Deganis, Hall and Corp. Mountaz Ibrahim – are charged with second-degree murder in the slaying of Paul Croutch, a 59-year-old homeless man who had dossed down that wet night in Moss Park, where the armoury is located.

All have pleaded not guilty on both the murder charge and a second count of assault causing bodily harm, against a purported witness to the savage attack.

Deganis, said St. Denis, was insensibly angry, apparently about the person in the bus shelter and perhaps also all people of that "homeless" ilk, although that specific term was never used.

"He was upset. He was saying, `f-----g bums, why's he dissin' me? I'm gonna kick his ass. I'm gonna take him on.' Words to that effect."

And, further: "I hate f-----g bums. I'm gonna take 'em on. I'm the king of the world."

St. Denis looked towards the shelter, trying to figure out who Deganis was ranting about, but could see only a blurred image through sheets of rain, the remnants of Hurricane Katrina dying out in Ontario.

Deganis did seem to settle down, as Hall helped hustle him inside. St. Denis said he ordered them either to get to sleep or move on. "They both left when I told them to leave."

Ibrahim had already entered the building with another fellow – the fourth reservist, who's not implicated in what is alleged to have happened later.

Croutch, sleeping on a park bench, was pummelled to death, booted "like a football" into unconsciousness.

He'd been a newspaperman, once.


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