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Randall Hopley is led out of the Cranbrook Provincial court September 14, 2011.John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Citing his client's low IQ and absence of harm to the victim, the lawyer for Randall Hopley says the child abductor simply doesn't fit the bill of a dangerous offender.

"He is a middle-aged man with the maturity and manner, in many ways, of a child," William Thorne told a B.C. Supreme Court sentencing hearing for Mr. Hopley, who turns 47 next week.

Mr. Hopley snatched three-year-old Kienan Hebert from his Sparwood, B.C., home late last summer, then returned him four days later, apparently safe and sound.

The Crown has asked Madame Justice Heather Holmes to commit Mr. Hopley for a 60-day psychiatric examination, as a first step to having him declared a dangerous offender and liable to a lifetime of imprisonment.

Prosecutor Lynal Doerksen referred Thursday to Mr. Hopley's conviction in 1985 for sexually assaulting a five-year-old boy, and a failed attempt in 2007 to abduct a 10-year-old youth, for which he received 18 months in jail plus three years probation.

But Mr. Thorne noted there was no evidence young Kienan was harmed in any way during his days with Mr. Hopley, who has consistently denied sexually assaulting the red-haired toddler.

Indeed, Mr. Hopley has described a happy time with Kienan. The youngster was forever laughing and smiling and playing, Mr. Hopley told police interrogators and the boy's father, Paul Hebert.

Mr. Hebert has said Kienan's only trauma seems to have stemmed from Mr. Hopley's killing of a packrat in the abandoned building where they were holed up.

"What we have here is a simple man, who did a stupid thing, but he did treat the boy well," Mr. Thorne contended.

The veteran lawyer said Mr. Hopley has a low IQ, and there is no reason not to accept his explanation – "bizarre though it is – that he was motivated by a desire to protest a previous injustice.

Regarding Mr. Hopley's sexual assault conviction, Mr. Thorne said it occurred a long time ago. "Mr. Hopley was 19 years of age," he said.

It is inappropriate, he said, for someone with Mr. Hopley's "level of functioning" to be considered a dangerous offender, with the possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars.

Mr. Hopley has pleaded guilty to abduction of someone under 14, plus breaking and entering for the purpose of committing an indictable offence.

In arguing for dangerous offender status, Mr. Doerksen said Mr. Hopley was simply lucky not to have inflicted serious psychological damage on either Kienan or his parents, who have forgiven him.

"They had their own child taken, and the way they have behaved is nothing short of remarkable," he said. "They simply decided they were not going to let this dictate how they were going to lead the rest of their lives."

Surprisingly, perhaps, the Heberts, who moved in May to Alberta's Peace River country, decided against submitting victim-impact statements to the court.

"We are just going to work. We are just moving on," Mr. Hebert told The Globe and Mail, as the sentencing hearing began on Wednesday. "We are happy to have Kienan back and let God sort the rest out. We just wish not to have our family put through this all over again."

Earlier Thursday, the court viewed an extraordinary one-on-one session between Mr. Hopley and Paul Hebert, who challenged Mr. Hopley with questions about his sexual proclivities.

The videotaped exchange took place shortly after Mr. Hopley's arrest, with police absent from the room.

After some pleasant chit-chat about how Kienan spent his four days in Mr. Hopley's custody, Mr. Hebert went right to the point.

Are you heterosexual? Are you interested in girls and women, he asked Mr. Hopley. "Oh, yes," Mr. Hopley replied.

Mr. Hebert then mentioned that he'd heard Mr. Hopley was a pedophile. He asked Mr. Hopley if he liked children.

"I like children, but not in a sexual way," Kienan's abductor replied. "It [the abduction] was nothing to do with sex."

He could never have done anything like that to a three-year-old child, Mr. Hopley continued. "I couldn't bear myself."

Mr. Hebert pursued the issue. He referred to Mr. Hopley's previous sexual-assault conviction.

"That was the past," Mr. Hopley said. "I don't want to go back to jail again."

Appearing to choke back sobs, Mr. Hopley said he would have gone out in the bush and shot himself if he had done anything like that with Kienan.

At the end of the emotional encounter, after urging Mr. Hopley to become a better man, Mr. Hebert clasped his hands and said: "It's a pleasure. Thank you."

In court, Mr. Hopley sat with head bowed while the videotape played, his dark, longish hair falling over his face. Several times, he appeared to be weeping.

Judge Holmes reserved her decision on whether to commit Mr. Hopley for a psychiatric assessment.

With a report from Dawn Walton in Calgary

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