The killer of Chris Ausman will spend another eight and a half years behind bars before he becomes eligible for parole.
On Friday, Justice Allan Betton sentenced Steven Pirko to life in prison, with no chance of parole for 11 years. With credit for time served, Pirko will become eligible for parole in mid-2028.
Pirko, now 27, was convicted last June of killing the 32-year-old Ausman with a hammer on a Highway 33 sidewalk, near Rutland Road, in the early hours of Jan. 25, 2014. After six weeks of trial, a jury found Pirko guilty of second-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for between 10 and 25 years.
Justice Betton noted that while Pirko will become eligible for parole in 2028, his parole release will ultimately be determined by the Parole Board of Canada at that time. Pirko's defence counsel had sought the minimum 10 years, while the Crown sought 12 to 15.
Friday morning, before sentencing, Pirko addressed Ausman's family, including Ausman's 16-year-old daughter, who have packed the courtroom during sentencing submissions.
“I want to say I'm very, very sorry,” he said. “It makes me sick how sad the little girl is and the family. I would do almost anything to pay you back ... I wish I could take back what I did.”
Ausman's daughter, Dylynn Couttie, was one of four of Ausman's family members who spoke in court Thursday about how his death has impacted them.
During sentencing, Justice Betton said he accepted Pirko is remorseful for the killing.
Following sentencing, Ausman's mother Annie Hutton, hugged Pirko's mother in the courtroom, both in tears.
“I want you to tell Steven to get better and to get his education, and when he gets out, to help people,” Hutton said. “Please tell him that for me.”
“Just tell him thank you from the family for the apology,” Ausman's brother Kelly added.
The 2014 hammer attack came as Ausman and Pirko's friend, Elrich Dyck, engaged in an alcohol-fuelled fight just after 1:30 a.m. Ausman had never met Pirko and Dyck prior to that morning, but Pirko testified that Dyck had been trying to pick a fight with multiple strangers.
Pirko said Ausman got the upper hand in the fight, and Dyck called out to him for help. About a minute into the fight, Pirko struck Ausman in the back of the head three times with the hammer, killing him.
Pirko and Dyck fled the scene, leaving Ausman in a pool of his own blood on the sidewalk. Ausman's body was found by a passing police officer just after 2 a.m.
During the Crown's sentencing submissions Thursday, the court heard how surveillance cameras outside Olympia Greek Taverna that led to the identification of Pirko were installed less than two years earlier, after Pirko threw a rock through the restaurant's window and stole two bottles of liquor. Crown prosecutor David Grabavac called this "poetic justice."