Alcohol may have been a factor in church window-smashing fit

| June 5, 2010

A 23-year-old Kingston man, who ended his Victoria Day long weekend with some costly vandalism at St. Mary's Cathedral, can't answer the question of why he did it.

Richard Plaku pleaded guilty on Thursday in Kingston's Ontario Court of Justice to a charge of mischief, involving just under $50,000 worth of damage to the church's stained glass windows.

But Plaku told visiting Belle -ville judge Justice Elaine Deluzio, "I'm stumped, your honour: I don't even know what happened."

Plaku said he was shocked and ashamed of what he'd done and told the judge he'd be willing perform maintenance work for St. Mary's– painting or lawn mowing for example — to demonstrate his remorse.

Deluzio told him she hadn't been asked to assign him any community service, "but that doesn't prevent you making the offer, if they're willing to have you on the property."

Assistant Crown attorney Elisabeth Foxton told the judge Plaku's spree of destruction was initially reported around 3:30 a.m. on May 25 by a witness who lives near the church. The man heard breaking glass and spotted Plaku, in shorts and shirtless, moving from north to south along the cathedral's exterior and observed that he appeared to be repeatedly throwing something at the windows.

Police were called, but Foxton said, by the time they arrived, Plaku had managed to disappear. The officers observed 18 windows had been damaged, she told the judge.

Kingston Police patrol the area, however, and roughly an hour later, the same witness who reported the first vandalism heard more glass breaking and looked out to see the same man attacking the cathedral again.

The second time police responded, Foxton said, officers were able to spot Plaku within two blocks of St. Mary's, at Princess and Clergy streets.

She told Deluzio that in placing him under arrest, police officers told Plaku he was being charged with vandalizing a church, but didn't disclose to him which one. She said Plaku, by way of response, spontaneously "nodded toward St. Mary's (Cathedral) and said I've gone to that church three or four times."

Plaku's defence lawyer, Lawrence Silver, suggested that the motivation for his client's crime and his lack of memory both flowed from the fact that by his own estimation he'd consumed two-thirds of a 60-ounce bottle of vodka that night, roughly 40 ounces of liquor.

He told the judge that amount of alcohol at a single sitting would be toxic for many, if not most, people. But he suggested Plaku has developed a physical tolerance as a result of his severe alcoholism.

He and Foxton joined in recommending a period of jail sentence and probation for Plaku. But Silver asked the judge to "think long and hard" before making any order that would require his client to abstain from alcohol. Given his addiction to the drink, the defence lawyer suggested it would simply be an invitation for Plaku to violate probation and accumulate more charges.

Foxton described the attack on St. Mary's as "simply unfathomable." She told Deluzio: "the act itself is simply horrible, that he would choose a church to vandalize, and to the extent that he did."

The cathedral's congregation was informed, following Plaku's arrest, that the damage included 20 of the panes of tempered glass the church installed two decades ago to protect its stained glass windows and 10 of the stained glass windows themselves.

Three of the stained glass windows in the cathedral's chapel were assessed as being badly damaged and one sustained a small crack. One coloured leaded glass window in the sacristy and one stained glass window in the Clergy Street porch were also badly damaged, together with three panels in the cathedral that sustained small cracks. Additionally, the coach lights at the church's Clergy Street entrance were attacked and torn partly off the wall. The fire alarm bell on that side of the church was also ripped off the wall and plugs for the fire hydrant were removed.

Luckily, according to a handout provided to congregation members, Mark Thompson, the artist who restored St. Mary's stained glass about 20 years ago, painstakingly documented and photographed each panel, providing a template for their repair.

The cathedral also has insurance, which will pay for the damage except for $1,000 deductible.

In sentencing Plaku, Justice Deluzio noted that much of his criminal record is for breaches of probation and court orders, which she characterized as crimes that ultimately hurt only him.

This time, she told him, he hurt an entire community of people with what she described as "such a senseless crime."

The judge sentenced Plaku to the four months in jail recommended to her by the defence and Crown lawyers, gave him credit for 10 days of pretrial custody and placed him on probation for two years. She also imposed a freestanding restitution order on him for $48,023.84, which can be enforced through the same means as a civil judgement, including garnisheeing his future wages.

She accepted Silver's submissions about Plaku's inability to control his drinking and declined to order him to abstain.

But she told him, "if you don't deal with it soon, you're going to spend a life time in and out of this court."

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Category: Church Security

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