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Man involved in Wellington East shooting now on path to 'a more pro-social lifestyle', says judge

'You have an opportunity to make your late father and godfather proud of you by turning your life around,' judge tells man sentenced to six years in prison
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A Sault Ste, Marie Police Service cruiser sits between two Wellington Street East homes in this Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014 file photo. Michael Purvis/SooToday

Citing Michael Bjornaa's positive prospects for rehabilitation, a judge sentenced the local man Wednesday to six years imprisonment for the role he played in a 2014 firearm incident where the victim was shot a dozen times with a handgun.

Superior Court Justice Ian McMillan gave the 33-year-old credit for the time he has spent in pre-sentence custody, leaving him with a further 19 months to serve behind bars.

He said Bjornaa has had considerable opportunity to reflect on his lifestyle and has become focused on pursuing traditional and cultural Ojibway beliefs.

"He is on the path to a more pro-social lifestyle," McMillan said, noting Bjornaa had expressed remorse for his criminal behaviour, genuine concern for the shooting victim and recognition that the injuries could have been fatal.

"Although he still remains a high risk to offend, factors that increase risk have not been present."

McMillan acquitted Bjornaa of attempted murder in June, but found him guilty of five offences, in connection with the Oct. 22, 2014 shooting that wounded Jayne Carlson (Bellerose) at a Wellington Street East residence.

Bjornaa was convicted of aggravated assault, administering a noxious substance (pepper spray), discharge of a firearm with intent to wound, maim or endanger life, unlawfully entering a dwelling to commit an indictable offence and breach of a weapons prohibition.

His conviction for discharging a firearm with intent was as a party to the offence and not as the shooter.

With the agreement of the Crown and defence, the aggravated assault count was stayed.

On that October evening three years ago, Daved Nadon, Johnathan Thompson, and Bjornaa went to the home where Carlson resided.

When the trio entered the house, Bjornaa stood at the doorway to Carlson's room speaking with him while Nadon, wearing a mask and armed with a semi-automatic handgun, remained out of his line of sight.

When Carlson realized Nadon was there, he slammed the door shut, but Nadon fired multiple shots through the closed door.  He continued shooting when the door was kicked open.

When the shooting stopped, Bjornaa tried to zap Carlson, who was down on the floor, with pepper spray, but missed.

When he imposed sentence, McMillan said Bjornaa is a recidivist, who has amassed more than 73 convictions — 50 as an adult, including a penitentiary sentence.

The judge called the offender's significant criminal record and the serious multiple injuries, including a lasting disability to the victim's foot, aggravating factors.

He also noted the offences, involving people who were part of the city's illicit drug subculture, "were motivated by a sense retribution, vengeance or a vendetta" against Carlson, and didn't occur in spontaneous circumstances.

As well, McMillan said the shooter, Nadon, had fired multiple bullets at close range and indiscriminately through a closed door "which by sheer good fortune were not fatal."

McMillan listed six mitigating factors, including Bjornaa's remorse for his actions, his record which is not reflective of much in the way of violent behaviour, and his age, which at 33, "is not beyond rehabilitation, if inclined, as he suggests he is."

Bjornaa's aboriginal heritage has unique systemic and background factors that have played a role in bringing him to court, the judge said.

"He has the support of First Nations cultural, ceremonial and counselling personnel to guide him on his indigenous-based healing journey, both in custody and in the community upon release," the judge also noted.

Pre-sentence reports detailed a dysfunctional home life, with a mother who was an alcoholic and drug user, who neglected him in his formative years and physically abused his much older father.

Bjornaa didn't speak until he was nearly six years of age and was held back in Grade 1 as learning delayed. He was ridiculed because of his aboriginal background and bullied due to his small stature, the reports indicated.

By age 13, he was abusing drugs and alcohol, was without parental supervision and was associating with a negative peer group.

"He struggled in school, but responded favourably to the Ojibway cultural teachings," McMillan said in his 14-page decision.

When he imposed sentence, McMillan recommended that Bjornaa be transferred to the Thunder Bay correctional centre, where he can participate in First Nations programs, to serve his remaining time.

"You have an opportunity to make your late father and godfather proud of you by turning your life around. That's eventually up to you," he told Bjornaa.

"Thank you, your honour," he replied.

Prosecutor Dana Peterson was seeking nine years imprisonment, while defence lawyer Don Orazietti proposed a six-year sentence. Both agreed Bjornaa should be given credit for pre-disposition custody.

Nadon is serving a 10-year prison term after pleading guilty to attempted murder with a firearm and other offences.

When he appeared in court, Thompson received a global sentence of three years, less credit for his pre-sentence custody.

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