Saint John man sentenced to 3 years in prison for manslaughter outside strip club

·4 min read
Garrett Johnston arrives at the Saint John courthouse for his sentencing on Thursday afternoon.  (Graham Thompson/CBC - image credit)
Garrett Johnston arrives at the Saint John courthouse for his sentencing on Thursday afternoon. (Graham Thompson/CBC - image credit)

Garrett Johnston was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison for manslaughter in the death of Mark Baker outside a Saint John strip club in 2019.

After hugging his parents and girlfriend, Johnston was taken into custody and led out of the courtroom by sheriff's deputies.

The Crown had asked the judge to consider a four-year sentence, while the defence asked the judge for 24 to 30 months.

Justice Darrell Stephenson said that although Johnston had a "very positive" pre-sentence report and "excellent future prospects," it was his legal duty to send a message of general deterrence that such behaviour cannot be tolerated.

The judge said Johnston "needlessly pursued" the victim down the street before punching him once in the face. That punch, said Stephenson, "caused or materially contributed to" Mark Baker's death.

The punch caused Baker to fall backwards and strike his head on the concrete sidewalk. He was found lying unconscious, and alone, soon after by a police officer driving by. He was taken to hospital, but died the following day.

'Heart-wrenching' submissions from family

Stephenson made note of the "heart-wrenching" victim-impact statements from six members of Baker's family — his wife of 35 years, both of this sons, and all three of this sisters.

Charlotte Bellefleur said her brother was kind, loving and funny.

"He missed his son's wedding," said Bellefleur, her voice breaking with emotion. "He'll never meet his grandchildren. He'll never kiss his wife goodnight again. And they will not grow old together."

Gisѐle Pelletier-Baker said she and Baker had been together since they were 16. She said the last two years have been very difficult.

"I laugh less, I cry more."

As an organ donour, Baker "died as he lived — helping others and giving of himself," she said.

Submitted by Justin Baker
Submitted by Justin Baker

The victim's son, Nick Baker, said he was angry at Johnston.

"After the death of my father, I felt like I was the one in prison," Baker said.

When he saw Johnston at the gym they both attended, he cancelled his membership.

For the last two years, Baker said, he couldn't go into a restaurant "without scanning the venue to ensure he was not there. Meanwhile, he was free to live his life as if nothing happened."

He has married since his father's death.

"This is only the beginning of great life events that I won't be able to share with my father," he said.

'Truly and deeply sorry'

Johnston also spoke at the sentencing hearing. Turning to face the Johnston family, he said he was "truly and deeply sorry."

He said he wished he could turn back time.

He said he regrets his actions, takes full responsibility for them, and will be forever haunted by them.

Johnston and Baker were strangers to each other when their paths crossed outside a Saint John strip club after closing time on Oct. 26, 2019.

Johnston was at Club Blush with a group of friends, while Baker had gone to the club alone. All of them ended up milling about outside the bar after closing time.

A video entered as evidence at trial shows Baker standing by himself and then speaking to two women who did not testify at Johnston's trial.

Friends of Johnston said the women claimed Baker was bothering them. They said they responded by telling Baker to leave. That resulted in some swearing back and forth.

Shortly after Baker disappeared from the screen, Johnston and his friends walk in the same direction as Baker — south toward Waterloo Street and out of camera range. Witnesses testified the altercation between Johnston and Baker occurred on the sidewalk at Waterloo and Union streets.

Johnston testified that he punched Baker once in the face and that Baker fell backward. He said he immediately walked away.

He and other witnesses testified that his co-accused, Gordon McMillan, then kicked or stomped on Baker's head.

Baker suffered 'catastrophic' injuries

The jury also heard from medical experts who said Baker's injuries were not survivable.

He had no brainstem responses. His eyes wouldn't dilate, and he didn't respond to painful or uncomfortable stimuli. When his respirator was turned very low, his body made no attempt to breathe.

A neuropathologist said there was bleeding in several parts of Baker's brain and indications of swelling and pressure in the brain.

The cause of death was determined to be blunt-force trauma to the head.

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