Man pleads guilty to manslaughter in death of Halifax gay rights activist

Gay rights activist Raymond Taavel was beaten to death outside a Halifax bar more than three years ago

HALIFAX – More than three years after gay rights activist Raymond Taavel was beaten to death outside a Halifax bar, the mentally ill man accused of the high-profile crime has pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

An agreed statement of facts presented Tuesday in Nova Scotia Supreme Court says Andre Noel Denny left a Halifax-area forensic psychiatric facility without permission on April 16, 2012, and got into an argument with Taavel and another man more than six hours later.

The statement says Denny’s mental state was impaired by psychosis and intoxication caused by consuming alcohol and crack cocaine.

“He punched Mr. Taavel two times in the head and knocked him to the ground,” it says. “Once on the ground, Mr. Denny kicked Mr. Taavel in the head and repeatedly hit his face into the pavement.”

Denny, a much larger man than the 49-year-old victim, then approached the other man, who fled.

“Mr. Denny returned to the motionless and apparently unconscious Mr. Taavel,” the statement says. ” Mr. Denny proceeded to forcefully hit the face of Mr. Taavel into the pavement an additional four or five times.”

The beating happened in front of Menz Bar, which describes itself as the “Heart of Halifax’s Gay Village.”

Denny was arrested soon after Taavel’s body was found in the middle of Gottingen Street.

After Denny was charged with second-degree murder, his lawyer at the time said Denny had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was a teenager. Pavel Boubnov also said outside court his client had no history of homophobia, but was prone to violence when off his medication and intoxicated.

The statement of facts makes no specific reference to what might have motivated the killing. However, it does say that Denny had earlier been forcefully removed from the residence of another man he had met at the bar.

Denny, who is from Membertou, N.S., was originally scheduled to stand trial on the murder charge in September but the case was delayed when he fired his lawyer.

Taavel was well known in the local gay community, having worked with gay organizations both provincially and nationally.

Hundreds attended vigils for Taavel, who was remembered at the time by former Nova Scotia premier Darrell Dexter as a champion in the fight against discrimination, violence and intolerance.

Denny’s lawyer, David Mahoney, said his client decided to plead guilty to the lesser charge after Crown and defence lawyers received two reports from expert witnesses dealing with Taavel’s cause of death and Denny’s mental health issues.

Mahoney said the statement of facts only deals with elements of the case that would satisfy a manslaughter conviction. He said more details would be released during Denny’s sentencing hearing, which is scheduled to start Jan. 25.

Crown attorney James Giacomantonio said a manslaughter conviction would fit the facts of the case. He said Denny had “compromised mental health” as a result of his diagnosis for paranoid schizophrenia and his consumption of drugs and alcohol.

“The law (as it pertains to second-degree murder) requires the ability to form a specific intent to kill,” Giacomantonio said. “Under the circumstances, it was just something that we didn’t think we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Giacomantonio said the reduced charge does not diminish the brutality of the crime.

“Mr. Taavel was killed in the middle of the street,” he said. “He was beaten to death for what we believe is almost no reason. Still, manslaughter is the appropriate plea.”

In September 2009, Denny was charged with slitting a dog’s throat and uttering threats. In a court decision regarding his fitness to stand trial, the judge reported Denny’s testimony was “sprinkled with delusions.”

In that case, Denny was declared not criminally responsible for his actions, which is why he was later sent to the East Coast Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth.

The special verdict triggers an ongoing assessment process by the Criminal Code Review Board that is designed to seek rehabilitation and reintegration into society while ensuring protection of the public.

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