Man convicted in Harbourside Park attack apologizes for pain he’s caused
He wasn’t going to say anything at his sentencing hearing.
“I’m really not confident in my ability to express myself,” James William Rogers said to the judge at provincial court in St. John’s Monday.
But the 35-year-old had a sudden change of heart after hearing the man whose throat he slashed speak.
“I was afraid he was going to come here today and say how I ruined his life,” said Rogers, who broke down crying before continuing. “But for him to get up on the stand and say he was doing OK, I was so happy to hear that. I’m very sorry for the pain I caused (him).”
Rogers was reacting to the statement, read minutes earlier by Brock Walker, the victim of Rogers’ horrifying knife attack at Harbourside Park in downtown St. John’s last summer.
On Aug. 10, 2012, Walker was sitting with a friend smoking a cigarette on a sunny summer day when, out of nowhere, Rogers walked up to him and cut his throat — from his ear to his Adam’s apple — with a box cutter.
Bleeding profusely, Walker was rushed to hospital, where surgery and 25 staples were needed to treat the huge gash.
Seven months later, Walker seems to have no lasting effects from the incident and even managed to find some good in what happened.
In a clear voice, Walker told the court how he had suffered physical effects from the attack. Besides the pain from the wound, he lost his voice for six weeks and couldn’t smile for two months.
However, Walker then pointed to the positive things that resulted from the attack.
“Other than the impacts listed above, I don’t feel this incident has negatively affected my life,” Walker said. “The outpouring of love and support from everybody in the community, even the people I didn’t know, has only reaffirmed my faith in the goodness of people.
“I loved being alive before this happened and I still do today.”
The incident happened at
3 p.m., when the park was filled with tourists from a visiting cruise ship, many of whom saw what happened and gave statements to police.
After he was cut, Walker tried to chase Rogers. He made it down Water Street onto Harbour Drive before he had to stop.
As he was being attended to by paramedics, police arrested Rogers on Harbour Drive, where he had thrown the box cutter in the harbour. Attempts to retrieve it were unsuccessful.
Walker initially didn’t recognize Rogers, but later realized they lived in the same apartment building.
Rogers pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, possessing a weapon for a dangerous purpose, breaching probation and two count of breaching an undertaking.
He also pleaded guilty to robbery and breaching probation from an incident that happened April 29, 2012. At around 7:55 p.m. that day, Rogers walked into Moo Moo’s ice cream shop and told the clerk he was dying from radiation poison from his microwave. He then demanded the clerk give him a package of cigarettes, “or I’ll knock you out.”
Rogers reached in and grabbed two packages of cigarettes and a Pepsi and then called police himself.
He waited outside on a picnic table for them to arrive. When they did, he told officers he was dying from radiation poisoning because Hell’s Angels had tampered with the electrical system in his apartment building.
He was taken into custody and has been behind bars ever since — a total of 228 days.
In her submissions on sentencing, Crown prosecutor Kathleen O’Reilly said a jail sentence of between 5 1/2 and seven years would be appropriate for such a serious assault.
“It could’ve very well have ended Mr. Walker’s life,” she said.
O’Reilly also pointed out the attack was unprovoked and random.
“One moment Mr. Walker is enjoying the sunshine. He’s the victim of an attack the next moment,” she said.
She added that it’s incredible how Walker was able to overcome what happened to him.
In regards to Rogers’ mental issues, she pointed out that while he was assessed after the assault, there is no evidence of any history of mental conditions. The pre-sentence report, she said, was based mostly on what Rogers told doctors, which makes the issue of rehabilitation difficult.
“We have no insight into the root of Mr. Rogers’ behaviour,” she said. “There seems to be some indication of mental illness, but we don’t know if Mr. Rogers suffers from some kind of mental illness or whether (the attack) was drug-induced.”
Defence lawyer Phil Warren disagreed about that assessment. He said there is, in fact, evidence his client has psychiatric issues.
He said Rogers has been an outpatient at the hospital’s psychiatric ward for several years and was on medication for depression and anxiety. He said Rogers had stopped taking the medication shortly before his crimes.
Originally from Wesleyville, Rogers, who lives in St. John’s, also has a family history of mental illness, Warren said. He said his client often feels paranoid — he reported hearing voices, believed people were following him and were knocking on the walls of his apartment.
“He just needs help,” Warren said.
Warren said four to 4 1/2 years behind bars is more appropriate for Rogers, who wants to get counselling available at a federal institution.
“I don’t want to minimize what he’s done,” Warren added, “but five to seven years is a little bit too high.”
He also pointed out that Rogers has a limited criminal record — a theft from 2011 and an assault in 2001 — and is remorseful for what he’s done. Judge Lori Marshall will render her decision April 30.