Superior Court Justice Sophie Bourque was hearing testimony at a sentence hearing for Nigel John, 29, a Montreal man who killed 64-year-old taxi driver Mohammed Nehar-Belaid during a robbery in November 2009. On Nov. 2, a jury found John guilty of second-degree murder, a conviction that carries an automatic life sentence. Bourque will have to decide, on Friday, how much time John is required to serve before he becomes eligible for parole.
Yamina Boukalba testified about how her husband was looking forward to retiring after April 2010 and planned to make up for lost time with his five children and seven grandchildren.
Nehar-Belaid drove his taxi seven days a week, working two shifts per day, to provide for their family.
On the day John robbed and killed him, her husband started his shift a little later than usual so he could watch a program about World Cup soccer.
As Boukalba spoke, the widow suddenly held her hands to her head, prompting prosecutor Hélène Di Salvo to ask Bourque for a break. Boukalba became visibly pale. After trying to assist her, courtroom constables called for an ambulance. The ambulance technicians found Boukalba was suffering from high blood pressure and took her away on a stretcher.
Boukalba's daughter, Najat Nehar-Belaid, a nurse at St. Mary's Hospital, had testified earlier Friday. She asked permission to finish reading her mother's statement.
"My daily punishment is to sit down for dinner at a table where he is no longer there, his place is empty. We would always discuss the events of the day, of our children, of our grandchildren and we evoked a peaceful future," she said through tears as she read Boukalba's statement. "When I see taxis on the street pass by, and I know he's not in it, that is how I suffer daily."
In her own statement, Najat Nehar-Belaid recalled how her oldest son, now 15, and her father loved watching Canadiens hockey games together.
"My son stopped following hockey. When I asked him why, he told me 'my partner in hockey is gone.' My dad used to help my son in his school work when I was busy (studying to be a nurse), but now that figure of warm guidance and joy is gone."
John kept his eyes mostly to the floor as both women spoke. When he testified, long pauses separated his first words.
"I still don't know exactly what happened. I'm sorry for all I did. I didn't know the man. I don't know the man. I don't like to hear women cry. To me, that is the worst thing you can do, make a woman cry. I took away someone's father and I took away someone's son," John said, the latter words a reference to the impact his crime has had on his parents.
His mother, Yvonne John, cried throughout her testimony as she recalled how her family was temporarily separated as they moved from Trinidad when John was two.
Her son had difficulty in school. She blamed herself because she was "working two or three jobs" at a time and spent little time with him as a boy.
She said in 2000, when John was about 17, her son tried to commit suicide and was kept at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute for a month. She said she demanded he be examined at another hospital but was never told what was wrong with her son.
"He suffered so much," she said three times, sobbing uncontrollably. "He keeps everything inside."
She found her son an apartment and hoped he could make it on his own. But she knew he couldn't be trusted to pay the rent and tried to pay it herself. During the trial, the court heard evidence that John used some of the $1,000 he stole from the cabbie, after stabbing him 10 times, to pay his rent hours later.
"After he came back from the Douglas, everything went downward with the drugs and alcohol. I did my best. Drugs and alcohol became his friends. Such a lonely boy."
When John's mother returned to her seat, Bourque thanked her for her testimony and tried to comfort her. "Based on what you said, you did all you could. Sometimes, nature is nature. As a mother, do not place that burden on your shoulders," Bourque said.
Di Salvo asked that John be required to serve 15 years before he is eligible for parole. She noted many judges have cited the vulnerable nature of a taxi driver's occupation as an aggravating factor when rendering sentences.
Defence lawyer Alexandra Longueville argued her client's case does not meet the standard for a judge to sentence an offender beyond 10 years before he be eligible for parole. "I don't think the pain would have been any less if (Nehar-Belaid) worked in a restaurant," Longueville said. "(John) still doesn't understand what happened that night."