Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sleeper in rough shown no mercy

Mar 26, 2008 04:30 AM
Rosie DiManno

On a mean and storm-swept night, the Fred Victor Centre would have been like a beacon to this city's most fragile and vulnerable souls.

Had Paul Croutch cast his eyes in that direction, he would have seen the glow of lamplight and a steady procession of individuals – not greatly different from himself – coming and going, because there is much restlessness in the darkest hours, especially here.

If not the Fred Victor, than any of the other mission shelters and hostels in the Moss Park neighbourhood, where the ragged people go.

But Croutch, a homeless man – like so many others in his predicament – must have preferred to doss down on a bench, close by. And, bundled in a plastic cocoon as flimsy protection against the steady rain, a bag covering even his face, he saw nothing. Didn't see the three fellows who allegedly approached him, with wickedness on the brain.

Didn't, likely, see the assailants who purportedly kicked and pounded at him, for the crime – as prosecutors maintain – of fouling the park with his dirty, useless presence. Didn't see, but must have felt – until he couldn't feel any longer – the blows inflicted upon him.

It was an attack so severe he was knocked from the bench, his unresisting body then booted so hard he was lifted off the ground, Crown attorney Hank Goody told the jury in his opening address last week.

So furious was the assault – to head, face, back, chest, arms – that Croutch suffered several broken ribs, a torn spleen and injury to the brain extensive enough to be fatal.

That is how paramedics found Croutch, sodden and broken and unconscious.

The 59-year-old former newspaper editor – and most chronically homeless don't make it to that age, succumbing prematurely to the ravages of their existence – never did open his eyes again, dying in hospital shortly after being transported.

Croutch took his leave of this life as cruelly and without pity as he had lived it, a harshness of being already evident in what would become his mortal remains: diseases of the heart and lungs, hardening of the arteries, elevated blood pressure, emphysema and swelling of the legs so bad that walking was always difficult.

The three men accused of killing him – all have pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder and assault causing bodily harm – are young and hale, the picture of good health. As reservists in the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, an airborne infantry unit based at the armoury on the edge of Moss Park, they are trained combat soldiers.

It has been alleged, in passing, that the trio were drunk that evening – Aug. 31, 2005 – and had been advised to take a cab home or spend the night at the armoury. But Goody told court witnesses will testify that the reservists had gone out into the wet, with a snoot-ful, intending to rough up a "bum," one of those sad sacks who inhabited "their'' park.

There was, the Crown has said, a witness to the savage assault on Croutch – a woman, former "tenant'' of the Fred Victor residence, who happened to be on the pathway alongside the green just after 4 a.m. Court heard she tried to intervene and was beaten for her troubles, chased, knocked down, dragged, assailed as a "whore."

Court saw her yesterday on video, captured by cameras affixed to the Fred Victor building going inside and moving toward the pay phones. She made the call for help, the jury has heard.

It was too late. Paul Croutch, who never knew what hit him, lay dying.

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