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Accused in Fountainhead assault to face trial in Jul 2010

'It's an awful long time to wait for justice': Herbert

The man accused of aggravated assault in the Mar 13 Fountainhead Pub attack which put a gay man in a coma has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Shawn Woodward will face a four-day trial by provincial court judge without a jury starting Jul 21, 2010. About a half dozen witnesses and three police officers are expected testify at trial.

Woodward did not attend court for arraignment but his lawyer, Joel Wysall, entered the plea on his client’s behalf Jul 30.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of 14 years if a conviction is handed down.

The case stems from an incident in which a man allegedly punched Ritchie Dowrey, then 62, after the suspect was allegedly touched inappropriately in the pub.

Dowrey allegedly fell to the floor and smashed his head with what friend Lindsay Wincherauk described as “a sickening thud.” Witnesses told media the suspect then fled and was chased and subsequently held until police arrived.

The attack left Dowrey in a coma for several weeks.

Since coming out of the coma, the father of two reportedly vaguely recognizes friends but has been making a slow recovery. Wincherauk says Dowrey is now in a care home in Langley but does not really recognize friends or understand where he is.

And, he adds, Dowrey sustained severe brain damage and speaks “in a code that only he can understand.”

Wincherauk says coming to grips with the fact the friend he knew isn’t coming back is hard to deal with.

“On March 13, Ritchie was sent to a prison he’ll never come back from,” he says.

Wincherauk says Dowrey’s family still scrambles to find positives anywhere they can in the situation.

“As for a miracle, I’m not a believer in miracles. I guess I’m glad he’s still alive.”

Wincherauk’s amazed a trial is a year away.

Criminal defense lawyer Garth Barriere says the scheduling of the trial a year from now is “about right.”

Most people charged with assault elect to be tried by a provincial court judge alone, he notes. “There’s a belief that sentencing can be better in provincial court,” he says. “It’s a faster process. You just go straight to trial.”

And, he adds, the other option of a preliminary inquiry and then a trial in the Supreme Court of BC is also a more costly option.

The case received significant attention in the city’s media.

The incident ignited anger in the city’s queer community, a population already upset over the apparent unwillingness of Crown prosecutors to ask for a hate crime legislation in bashing cases.

Hate crime designations are applied at sentencing if the evidence has shown that hate was a motivating factor in the crime.

The incident also spurred the organizing of a rally Apr 4 that saw some 2,000 people take over Davie St for a march to English Bay where various community members spoke.

While their words were different, speaker after speaker pressed home a simple message: enough is enough.

Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Herbert was one of those speakers and has continued to watch the case carefully.

“Wow,” he said, when told the trial was a year away.

“That’s an awful long time to wait for justice,” he adds. He wondered how the passage of time would affect testimony.

“The longer you delay criminal proceedings from when the incident occurred, witnesses’ memories get fuzzy,” he says. “I’m sure they’ll do what they can.”