Crown seeks prison in Amber Alert case
NORTH BATTLEFORD A provincial court judge is faced with the challenge of sentencing a troubled, cognitively impaired young man who continues to offend despite “extraordinary” attempts to help him.Judge Bruce Bauer said he can’t give up on attempting to rehabilitate Johnathan Ryann Gunville, the North Battleford man who prompted an Amber Alert on Sept. 16, 2018, when he stole a running Mercedes with a six-year-old girl inside.However, the sentence also needs to protect the public from his pattern of stealing vehicles, taking them on “joyrides” and evading police, Bauer said.Gunville, 19, did not look to see if anyone was inside the SUV when he drove away from a strip mall, court heard during the man’s sentencing hearing on Wednesday. Once he realized the girl was in the back seat, he “panicked,” defence lawyer Bill Archer said. Gunville couldn’t ask the girl questions because she has autism and is non-verbal.Instead, he ditched the vehicle in an industrial area. The girl wasn’t found until the next morning when a man recognized the missing SUV and called police. Gunville said he didn’t call police, even though he worried the girl might die, because he was wanted on breach charges.In her victim impact statement, the girl’s mother, who can’t be named to protect her child’s identity, said she spent 14 hours in pure agony.“Each hour that passed grew darker, colder. It was impossible to keep the ‘What ifs’ out of our mind. What if she was being abused?”The woman said she was “beyond grateful” that her daughter wasn’t hurt, but it didn’t erase the sleepless nights. A social media storm of blame against her soon followed.Archer said the girl’s parents should not be attacked for a “momentary lapse in judgment.”“This is on Johnathan. He bares the responsibility for what happened.”Gunville pleaded guilty to abandoning a child, vehicle theft, driving while disqualified and dangerous driving. Crown prosecutor Lee Hnatiuk argued he should serve a three-year penitentiary sentence, preferably at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon, where he would get proper programming.Archer argued the best option for rehabilitation would be a provincial jail sentence of 18 months to two years less a day, served at the Saskatchewan Hospital.Bauer reserved his decision until Feb. 20, saying his concern is not that Gunville will go around snatching children and abandoning them, but that he will continue his pattern of dangerous driving.Four days after the Amber Alert, witnesses observed Gunville running stop signs, doing doughnuts in the middle of the street, swerving in and out of traffic and driving into a ditch in a stolen truck. He wouldn’t stop for police.Gunville told an undercover officer he “wanted to go for a little drive” and that it was “awesome,” court heard. He later said he didn’t know the difference between what he could do on his favourite video game and what he could do in real life.According to a pre-sentence report, Gunville was dropped on his head as an infant and functions at a low intellectual level. He was constantly teased and in trouble as a child, is easily influenced, impulsive, immature and lacks insight into his behaviour and drug use, court heard.Bauer asked Hnatiuk if there is a reduced culpability given Gunville’s “deficits.” Hnatiuk said no because every effort to rehabilitate him after his 31 prior convictions has been unsuccessful.“There are options available to him. He’s chosen not to use them,” Hnatiuk said.Both lawyers and report writers agreed Gunville requires stable community support once he is released.Archer said his client wanted the six-year-old girl’s mom to know he is sorry and glad that her daughter is “OK.”It might not seem like much, Archer told the woman, pausing before saying it’s all they have to offer.
Johnathan Ryann Gunville was arrested and charged in North Battleford in connection with the Sept. 16, 2018, theft of an SUV with a child in it, which initiated an Amber Alert.
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