Judge hammers 'law of outlaws' in sentencing men in jailhouse killing

A photo of cell 203 at the Montreal Detention Centre where Michel Barrette was beaten to death. MONwp

If criminals in a provincial detention centre can exercise enough control over the system to fatally beat a man and hide the crime for hours, society must respond with force, a Superior Court judge said on Friday while sentencing three men who killed a fellow inmate at the Montreal Detention Centre two years ago.

Justice Hélène Di Salvo used terms like Omertà and “the law of silence” as she began to deliver sentences to Tarik Biji, 40, Jason Côté, 32, and Garmy Guerrier, 30, for their roles in the death on Michel Barrette, a 46-year-old heroin addict who had just arrived at the detention centre commonly known as the Bordeaux jail when he was beaten for 23 minutes on June 21, 2016.

The inmates who assaulted Barrette wanted him to turn over tobacco that he had managed to smuggle inside the jail. He died of internal bleeding two hours after he was assaulted.

“If this type of violence is tolerated and tolerable among inmates in a detention centre, they can’t expect society to adopt the same attitude. Society is allowed to expect that the detention of a person protects society,” Di Salvo said while noting the assault was carried out by members of an inmates committee who considered themselves to be “above the law” and had considerable influence, even in their interactions with guards, at the detention centre.

“Mr. Barrette was a victim of the law of outlaws. A few grams of tobacco — that is what his life was worth to them.”

Biji, the apparent leader and organizer of the attack, received an automatic life sentence when the jury in the trial found him guilty of second-degree murder. Di Salvo set his parole eligibility at 12 years and noted his criminal record, the brutality of the attack and the fact Biji knowingly let Barrette suffer for two hours before he died as aggravating factors that contributed to her decision.

Côté and Guerrier were convicted of manslaughter and Di Salvo agreed with prosecutor Louis Bouthillier’s request that both be sentenced to 15-year prison terms for what they did to Barrette. Di Salvo highlighted how security cameras inside the detention centre captured images of Guerrier fist-bumping with other inmates after the assault and how he calmly watched television in a common room while Barrette was dying.

Di Salvo said the sentences should serve as deterrents because the trio’s chances of rehabilitation are low, seeing as how they killed someone while they were already in jail.

“The images leave a person cold,” Di Salvo said in general reference to the video footage that was shown to the jury during the trial. She specifically referred to how all three men were seen entering and exiting Barrette’s cell several times while they searched for his tobacco.

Guerrier’s lawyer, David Petranic, had asked that his client be sentenced to a prison term between five and seven years. Côté’s lawyer, Fanie Lacroix asked for a five-year prison term.

According to testimony heard during the trial, Barrette was ambushed the second he entered Biji’s cell for what he was told would be a meeting. Biji grabbed him by the neck from behind and Guerrier proceeded to punch Barrette. One witness said he saw Biji use his feet to stomp on Barrette’s head at least five times while the victim was lying on the floor.

Several other inmates also took part in the beating but the Sûreté du Québec could only find two witnesses who were willing to say the trio took part in the assault.

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