Five years for killing Andy 'is not enough'
Don Campbell
The Ottawa Citizen
Andrew Moffitt died at 23.

Just more than four years after the senseless death of his big brother at the hands of a knife-wielding drug dealer, Michael Moffitt still can't openly discuss the tragedy.

Nor can he bear to allow his parents to disturb anything in his brother's bedroom, not even his CDs.

So there he was, yesterday, curly-haired and 16, sitting in the front row in courtroom No. 34, sandwiched between his parents and his surviving brother, Rodney. There were rows of family and friends behind them, all there to hear Justice Roydon Kealey finally pass sentence on his brother's killer.

"It's not enough," said Michael Moffitt as he walked from court, his head bowed. "It's not. Five years for killing someone. It's not enough. Not nearly enough."

If hearing Judge Kealey sentence Henry Danninger to five more years in a federal penitentiary was supposed to be about closure, it reopened wounds instead. With credit for time already spent in jail, Mr. Danninger will be eligible for parole in less than two years.

"This was too lenient," said Paulette Moffitt, the boys' mother. "We will never have closure. This is just the way our system works."

Mr. Danninger, 31, pleaded guilty last November to a reduced charge of manslaughter for the Dec. 23, 1998 stabbing of Andrew Moffitt, who innocently tried to intervene in a confrontation between Mr. Danninger and others inside a restaurant near the University of Ottawa.

Mr. Danninger was a street-level drug dealer intent on settling a score with a former associate he was to meet at Coyote's Restaurant. He even went out earlier that evening and bought the knife he used in the killing.

Mr. Moffitt, meanwhile, was there to celebrate the end of university exams, a night before heading home to Brockville for Christmas.

Mr. Danninger caused a ruckus. Mr. Moffitt, 23, was stabbed. Mr. Danninger was soon arrested and charged with second-degree murder. After numerous delays, the Crown accepted a plea to the lesser charge.

Mr. Danninger walked into court in a blue blazer yesterday, looking at ease that his day of reckoning had arrived.

When offered the chance to speak, Mr. Danninger rose and pulled a couple of sheets of paper from his pocket and read, clearly and confidently:

"I would like to extend my condolences to the Moffitt family and their friends. If I could, I would alter the events of that night that led to the death of Andy Moffitt.

"In the four years since, there hasn't been a day that I haven't thought about the premature and violent death of Andy. I can only imagine the devastation to the family. I can only hope this day helps bring closure."

Judge Kealey said he leaned on a number of factors in sentencing, not the least of which was that Mr. Danninger turned himself in as soon as he knew police were looking for him and seemed to show genuine remorse to the police officer who guarded him that night in the holding cell.

"I realize no sentence I impose can ever come close to satisfying Mr. and Mrs. Moffitt for the loss of Andy," said Judge Kealey. "But to attempt to appease the family's grief with an eye-for-an-eye is unachievable. I must balance the competing interests of society to denounce the crime and still open the opportunity for the possibility of rehabilitation."

Judge Kealey told the family there's one positive they should hang on to: the Andy Moffitt Memorial Scholarship Fund, to send engineering students to school, is valued in excess of $100,000.

Further, he referred to Mr. Danninger as a once "intelligent, sensitive, relatively outstanding student" whose life went into a downward spiral in his final year of university due to drugs. But he noted he was a first-time offender with no history of violence.

"Most likely, the hardest punishment is the undaunting memory of having taken the life of Andy Moffitt," said Judge Kealey. To Mr. and Mrs. Moffitt, regardless of what you think of this sentence, I assure you, you were foremost in my thoughts as I came to this sentence.

"No sentence I could mete out would breathe life into Andy Moffitt. But the case is closed. It is over. Andy's spirit lives on in all of you. I wish you God's blessing in your every endeavour."

© Copyright  2003 The Ottawa Citizen

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