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Slaying not hate crime, judge says Add to ...

The unprovoked murder of an Orthodox Jew outside a north Bathurst Street pizza parlour 2½ years ago fell short of being a hate crime, prosecution and defence agreed yesterday as the man's 22-year-old killer was sentenced to life imprisonment without chance of parole for at least 15 years.

In sentencing Christopher Steven McBride, Mr. Justice David Watt of the Superior Court echoed that opinion. Notwithstanding anti-Semitic obscenities yelled by Mr. McBride before he plunged a knife into the back of David Rosenzweig, the 48-year-old victim was apparently murdered "simply because he was there," the judge concluded.

The July, 2002, slaying horrified the city's Jewish community. A devout father of six, a chartered accountant by trade, Mr. Rosenzweig was by every measure a pillar of that community.

"This was a calm, kind, even-tempered man whose motto was 'If you do the right thing, you can never go wrong,' " Crown attorney Fred Braley told the packed courtroom yesterday, where more than 40 relatives and friends joined the man's widow, Chavi, and three of the couple's children.

"But the evidence of a hate crime simply wasn't there," Mr. Braley said after yesterday's sentencing. "The biggest crime involves not what Mr. Rosenzweig was but who he was -- by all accounts a terrific man."

His killer, Mr. McBride -- a chain around his waist, his tattooed wrists in manacles, his hair swept back in a ponytail -- sat impassively in the prisoner's box, occasionally closing his eyes, as Mrs. Rosenzweig read out a statement that left many of her supporters in tears.

"David was the finest man I have ever known, he represents the universal Jew at his best," Mrs. Rosenzweig told the court. "In an instant, our world changed forever."

Also read to the court was an apology from the murderer and his plea for forgiveness.

"Every day I have to live with what I did, knowing I killed an innocent man," he wrote. "I know that God can forgive me and I know I must change my life to earn forgiveness."

Mr. Braley said later he believed the expressions of remorse were sincere.

In pleading guilty last week to a reduced charge of second-degree murder, Mr. McBride acknowledged that he killed Mr. Rosenzweig in a drunken rage. Incensed at being made to look foolish by a group of Jewish teenagers from whom he had tried to buy marijuana, Mr. McBride got a knife from his apartment and returned to the pizza restaurant where he encountered the teens.

But they had all departed. So after confronting other customers, and then slashing an employee of another restaurant, he spied Mr. Rosenzweig and his 16-year-old son, Ezra, standing in the street with their backs to him. Ezra had been involved in a minor collision and he and his father were awaiting a tow truck.

Without warning, Mr. McBride ran up to Mr. Rosenzweig, bearded and dressed in a traditional skullcap and suit, and stabbed him once. The blade pierced the victim's aorta and he died almost immediately.

Almost as quickly, the killing took on the shape of a hate crime. Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B'nai Brith Canada, said Mr. Rosenzweig was "a victim of the hate culture that has enveloped Canada" and that his slaying signalled "open season on Jews."

Homicide detectives were less sure, noting that before his arrest a couple of days later, Mr. McBride told several friends he was aghast at what he had done and at the suggestion the slaying was racially motivated.

Instead, it appears to have been the act of a man whose life encompassed a lengthy criminal record, a long history of substance abuse and what Judge Watt termed his "escalating anti-social behaviour."

Mr. McBride was removed from the family home at the age of 4 and lived in 25 different foster homes between the ages of 11 and 15 years old, his lawyer, Jeff Shulman, told the court in a joint submission by Crown and defence that asked Judge Watt to impose the 15-year minimum term.

Conviction for second-degree murder automatically brings life imprisonment, with a minimum of 10 years behind bars before parole can be sought. A minimum 15-year term is considered a significant increase.

The chief aggravating factor in this instance was Mr. McBride's decision, after the confrontation with the teens, to go and get the murder weapon, rather than letting the matter drop.

"Were it not for that knife, Mr. Rosenzweig would be alive today," Mr. Braley said. "The stabbing was a momentary thing."

Lawyer Tim Danson, who represents the Rosenzweigs, said later that the family is content with the outcome.

So, too, was Len Rudner of the Canadian Jewish Congress, voicing confidence in the police and prosecutors. "They have all the evidence and we bow to their knowledge.

"But as the Crown said, while this may not have been a hate crime, it clearly had a tremendous impact on the Jewish community and I have to believe that played a role in the decision of the judge to accept the 15-year [minimum]sentence that was proposed."

Mercedes Asante, the 22-year-old mother of the killer's four-year-old daughter, was stoical after hearing her partner sentenced to life imprisonment. "Obviously, I would not want this, but he did what he did and he had to pay for it."

Also listening was Mr. McBride's biological mother, from whom authorities took him. She said the system messed him up. "It took him out of a loving home and wrecked his life."

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