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Man pleads guilty in liquor store case

Man pleads guilty in liquor store caseMichael Gerard Cooper leaves provincial court in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Thursday March 6, 2014. Cooper, who told the Parole Board of Canada that he would drink and drive again after serving his sentence for impaired driving causing death, has been charged with breaching court orders after he entered a liquor store. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mike Dembeck

HALIFAX - Fresh psychiatric evidence describing the brain injury of a convicted drunk driver gives the public better insight into the man's ability to cope with life outside prison, the Crown said Thursday.

Michael Gerard Cooper was sentenced Thursday to time served after pleading guilty to breaching a condition that forbids him from going to a liquor store.

Cooper's case received national attention when he was released from prison on Jan. 21 after serving a seven-year prison sentence for impaired driving causing death. He was arrested a week later for breaching conditions of his release.

A psychiatric report on his mental health including his brain damage was entered as evidence Thursday at Halifax provincial court.

"Knowing that now, I think some members of the public may think about this situation a little bit differently," said Crown prosecutor Susan MacKay after the sentencing.

She said the report shows the public would be better served if Cooper was given proper housing and support for a brain injury he suffered in the impaired driving crash that killed two people.

"It seems to be a situation where his motives for doing and saying things in the past were attributed to a bad attitude where it appears there is actually a brain injury affecting his ability to function in the community in an appropriate way."

Cooper was released from a New Brunswick prison after serving his full sentence for causing the deaths of two people in a 2004 crash. The Parole Board of Canada said he told them he would likely continue to drink and drive, which prompted the board to deny him an early release.

He was released on conditions that include a two-year ban from entering any place where alcohol is sold or consumed as the primary source of business, as well as a two-year order to abstain from buying, possessing or drinking alcohol.

On the day Cooper was released, Halifax police released his photo and took the unusual step of warning all Nova Scotians about him. Nova Scotia Liquor, the Crown agency that owns the province's liquor stores, then instructed all of its employees to call 911 if Cooper was spotted in any of its outlets.

A week later, he was arrested near a Nova Scotia Liquor store at a Halifax mall.

During Thursday's hearing, court heard that the psychiatric assessment concluded Cooper was fit to stand trial and not exempt from criminal responsibility due to mental illness.

But the report also said Cooper has significant brain damage as a result of a traumatic brain injury incurred in the 2004 crash, making it difficult for him to adapt to independent community living.

The assessment said Cooper's particular form of brain damage is often accompanied by socially inappropriate behaviour and comments. The report, which includes quotes from Cooper taken from interviews he gave during his mental health assessment, says that when he entered the Nova Scotia Liquor store, he said, "I would like to buy something but I am not allowed."

Asked in court if he had any comments before sentencing, Cooper said he suffered from brain damage and sometimes wanders.

"Half the time I don't even think about what I'm doing and where I'm going," he said.

Judge Barbara Beach reminded Cooper that in the future he'll have to find a way to remember to follow his conditions or seek assistance from his brother.

Defence lawyer John Black said in court that Cooper's brother has promised to help him as he makes appointments with various social support agencies.

Cooper was convicted in 2007 of two counts of impaired driving causing death following a May 2004 crash in Cape Breton that killed Angela Smits, 19, and her 20-year-old boyfriend, Michael MacLean.

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