MONCTON — Moments after Ronald MacNeil stabbed two men outside a Moncton bar, he was about to get into a car when a bystander called out to him.
“Why did you stab buddy?” asked the concerned witness.
“That’s just the way it goes down,” MacNeil responded.
The way it went “down” is that MacNeil got into an argument in a downtown bar and things rapidly escalated from words exchanged to punches thrown to him plunging a knife into a man’s chest.
“I didn’t know them,” said the offender, in Moncton’s Court of Queen’s Bench on Monday. “It was not a crime of passion, just a bar fight that went wrong.”
Ronald Stephen Alexander MacNeil, 29, of Prince Edward Island, appeared before Chief Justice David Smith for sentencing after earlier pleading guilty to committing aggravated assault on Lewis Livingston and assault causing bodily harm on Guy Andre Noel on Nov. 1, 2012. MacNeil was represented by defence lawyer Martin Goguen, while Maurice Blanchard was prosecuting.
The two lawyers made their submissions Monday morning. Blanchard asked for five years, with credit for 566 days already spent in custody, while Goguen asked for three years and four months, with time-and-a-half credit for the remand time, which would equal 849 days.
Smith split the difference and sentenced MacNeil to four years in prison, with time-and-a-half credit equalling 849 days. After considering time served, the offender’s remaining sentence is just under 20 months.
He will also be on probation for 30 months, following his release, with orders to keep the peace, abstain from drugs and alcohol and have no contact with the victims.
Blanchard told the court the incident occurred in the early morning hours of Nov. 1 at the Wize Guys Pub on Robinson Street. The bar hosted a Halloween party that night and Livingston attended dressed as a “nerd,” in the Crown’s words.
He had been drinking and was about to leave with a friend when he went to retrieve his coat from where MacNeil was sitting. The two men didn’t know each other, though both were regular patrons of the bar.
MacNeil said his coat wasn’t there but Livingston found it and showed it to him. MacNeil insulted him, challenged him to a fight and then punched him in the face.
Livingston returned with friends to confront him, but bar staff broke it up and made the group leave through one door and MacNeil another door to split them up. Outside, they encountered each other once again and Livingston asked why he punched him when he wasn’t doing anything.
“MacNeil said, ‘you’re still shooting off,’ then stabbed him in the chest with a knife,” said Blanchard.
The victim fell backwards, his punctured lung filling with blood. He watched as his friend, Noel, grabbed MacNeil and wrestled him to the ground. He also saw MacNeil make a stabbing motion at Noel.
An unknown person intervened on MacNeil’s behalf and Noel also knocked him down and other people got involved. Once the confusion subsided, Noel realized he had been stabbed several times.
A witness described MacNeil as making punching motions “at anyone he could” during the brawl, but with a knife in his hand.
Livingston was in hospital for three days with the chest wound and Noel suffered stab wounds to his abdomen, thumb and hip and required surgeries that kept him off work for two months.
Blanchard told the court they didn’t go with a charge of aggravated assault for the attack on Noel because they couldn’t prove which injury MacNeil caused and which injuries the second person may have caused. The second suspect was never caught.
At the time of the incident, the RCMP said the second man had his face painted like the Joker from Batman. He was described as being possibly five-foot-six or five-foot-seven, slim, with short spiked hair. He was wearing a blue short-sleeved shirt, a dark tie and dark pants.
A Canada-wide warrant was obtained for MacNeil’s arrest after the incident and he was picked up in Sainte-Marie-de-Kent on Nov. 7. The court heard on Monday he had spent time in the woods and eventually went to hospital with hypothermia, not wearing any shoes.
He has a criminal record that includes incidents of violence and Goguen told the court he has battled drug abuse and lingering mental health problems, including a diagnosis of “drug-induced psychosis.”
He asked for a lighter sentence so his client can serve his time in a provincial jail, then go back to P.E.I. where he has family support. MacNeil’s parents were in court and said they would take him back into their home and help him find work, as long as he takes his medication as prescribed.
MacNeil, who had twice been scheduled to stand trial by judge and jury before changing his pleas on April 14, apologized to his victims, who were not in court. He said he didn’t go to the bar looking for a fight that night, but things escalated and someone put a knife in his hand.
“I didn’t think before reacting,” he told the judge.